Many Real Madrid fans seem to be unhappy with Gareth Bale of late. If any of them happened to tune into the European Championship Qualifier played out between Israel and Wales at the weekend though, they’ll have had a timely reminder of the qualities that persuaded Florentino Pérez to spend £85 million on Gareth Bale a couple of years ago. The Welshman scored two goals and put on a superb display in a 3-0 win that puts Wales on course for a first major tournament appearance since 1958.
Bale is increasingly becoming a talisman for his country in much the same way that he was for Tottenham Hotspur. Talisman is not a word most would use to describe Bale when he plays in the white of Real Madrid, however. One Cristiano Ronaldo firmly holds that title, and rightly so given his success at the Bernabéu. Ronaldo being at the centre of everything for Madrid may not be the best thing for his Welsh team-mate though, as he faces mounting pressure from fans and media alike in light of his recent performances.
One of Bale’s most impressive moments on Saturday was the stunning free-kick he dispatched to double his country’s lead. If Bale had been playing for Madrid and a set-piece opportunity arose in a similar position, the chances are Bale wouldn’t have got a look in at taking it with the Portuguese around. And herein lies a part of the problem Bale is currently experiencing in Spain; for Bale to perform at his very best, one gets the sense that he needs to be the star man in a team rather than a support act – alongside Ronaldo anybody not called Lionel Messi has to be a support act.
There are times when Bale appears to be playing a little within himself at the Bernabéu, and maybe thinking about what he is going to do too much, rather than playing in the explosive, spontaneous style he does with Wales and formerly did with Spurs. Bale seems to relish being the man who his team-mates turn to when they need someone to produce something out of nothing.
This is not to say that Bale’s move to Madrid has been anything other than a resounding success. 22 goals last season included an astonishing match-winning solo strike against Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey, plus the vital goal in the Champions League final. For the majority of last season, he linked up superbly with fellow forwards Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Bale has contributed a very respectable 16 goals this season too, but it is clear that he is finding his second season in the Spanish capital more difficult. The front three are not linking up as well as they were and the Welshman in particular has looked a little lost in recent performances. Most notable of these performances of course was in the recent defeat to Barcelona where he was virtually anonymous in the second-half.
It hasn’t taken long for the Bernabéu’s notoriously fickle fans to pick up on the forward’s first real run of bad form since signing in 2013 and they haven’t been afraid to let Bale know exactly what they think of his current level of performance. Paying supporters have a right within reason to display their emotions in whichever way they see fit of course, but surely it’s counterproductive to boo and jeer a player who is clearly struggling to perform to the best of his capabilities at present. Ronaldo hardly helps matters either when he publicly denounces Bale for failing to pass to him, throwing theatrical hand gestures into the air in the process.
On the flip side though, Bale shouldn’t be immune to criticism, and is the most expensive player in the world, so fans are right to feel a little aggrieved if he isn’t helping out as much as he could – defensively, for example. This is definitely an area Bale should look to address and Carlo Ancelotti has surely told him so. If there is one thing football supporters universally can’t stand it is a lack of required effort from a highly paid athlete.
This recent dip in form may of course just be a mere blip in what could be a long and successful career with Real Madrid,and with the talent he possesses that would be the more logical way of looking at things. However Real Madrid, in any area of their business, aren’t exactly known for their patience, and Bale is expected to perform week in week out. It’s not a surprise then that the speculation as to where Bale will be playing his football next season gathers pace with every sub-par performance he produces.
It has been well documented that Manchester United put in a last-ditch offer to snatch Bale from under the noses of Madrid with a bid in excess of £100 million back in 2013. Should Bale become available in the summer, United are expected to be the frontrunners for his signature. Bale has already shown at Spurs that he can dominate in the Premier League and would surely relish being the main man at Old Trafford under Louis Van Gaal at another of the world’s biggest clubs. Any talk of a transfer at this stage is just speculation of course and Bale has repeatedly stated that he is happy with life at Madrid and expressed a desire to stay in the Spanish capital. It is not always the players decision however, and how much longer will Bale want to put up with feeling so unappreciated by large sections (not all) of his own supporters? It is only natural that a player likes to feel loved by his club’s fans, and Old Trafford would surely welcome a player of his stature with open arms so a summer move shouldn’t be ruled out.
There has also been plenty of talk of late that Ronaldo himself may be coming to the end of his Real Madrid career, and he has also been linked with a move back to Old Trafford. With Pérez determined to see his 25-year-old world record signing succeed at the Bernabéu, and with Ronaldo now 30, it could as well be the Portuguese superstar the president will push to let go in the summer. Whether the supporters will be happy with that is another thing.
Bale and Ronaldo may well both get back to their best, of course, both stay at the club and find the same cohesion they had together last season. For now though, it seems the presence of Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo, through no real fault of his own, is contributing to the issues Bale is currently encountering in Spain. As Bale showed in Haifa on Saturday, he relishes being the Ronaldo of his team and it may well be that he needs to part with the real thing in order to be so at club level.