What next for Gareth Bale?
After spending the summer finding himself mercilessly mocked by the Spanish media, being frozen out colder than an iceberg by Zinedine Zidane and nearly moving to China on a free transfer, the Welshman’s future has taken a sudden, dramatic and highly unexpected turn.
With no suitable buyers for his services found, Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard injured, and Paul Pogba and Neymar unsigned, the opening game of La Liga somehow contrived to thrust Bale into the starting line-up for Saturday’s trip to Celta Vigo.
Naturally, Bale responded by delivering a reminder of exactly what he is: a world class footballer. His run and cross for the opening goal, converted by Karim Benzema to send Zidane’s men on their way to a much needed 3-1 victory, was a brilliant demonstration of pace, power, poise and technique which few players on the planet could match.
And this is what Bale does. It’s what he’s done throughout his six years in Spain, which have seen him play a central role in the gathering of several major honours.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that the issues which led to Bale nearly departing the Bernabeu in the first place have not simply disappeared. At best, they are being swept under a magic carpet in the vain hope that everybody will forget about them. That can only last for so long.
The first of those issues is that Zidane and Bale just do not get along. They never have really got along, and any relationship they did have was apparently permanently destroyed by the coach’s decision to exclude the winger from the starting eleven for 2018 Champions League Final, which ended with Bale coming off the bench to score one of the greatest goals in the competition’s history.
The next issue – closely connected to Zidane’s decision that evening – is Bale’s long list of injuries over the last few years, which have forced him to miss more than 100 games during his time in Madrid. Sure, Bale played really well in Vigo on Saturday evening, but nobody could have too much confidence that he won’t break down with another muscle strain or tear in the next few weeks.
Then there’s the fact that Bale is now 30 years old, placing him firmly among the ranks of Real’s old guard at just the time when Zidane is under pressure to usher in a new era of young stars. Bale, of course, is not alone in this category: Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo are also in the same boat. But it is yet another factor counting against him.
Does all this mean, then, that Bale’s reprieve from Zidane’s bad books is only temporary, and that Saturday’s splendid performance in Vigo was merely the last rays of light before the sun sets on his career in Spain?
Well, not necessarily. All the negatives outlined above can be kept pinned down under that carpet for a while, maybe even for another whole season: he might, for once, stay fit, which would restore some of Zidane’s trust, which would make the player look upon his coach more favourably, which would further encourage Zidane to delay his squad overhaul process for just a little longer.
A virtuous circle of Bale playing well, staying fit, playing better and growing ever stronger could be ushered in, and the uncertainty of the summer – which started off with the world and his wife believing Bale would never play for the club again – has taught us that we should always expect the unexpected when it comes to Real Madrid.
So the only conclusion we can really draw from Saturday’s scintillating start to the season, although it may be highly unsatisfactory, is that we can’t really draw any conclusions at all. Bale is a great player, but we already knew that.
Will he continue to be a great player for Real Madrid? Not even Bale or Zidane can answer that one.
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Real Madrid custodian Thibaut Courtois praised the performance of his team-mates in their 3-1 win over Celta Vigo and indicated that pre-season results count for little once the league begins.
Los Blancos endured a series of disappointing pre-season results, the most notable of which was a 7-3 hammering by city rivals Atletico Madrid. Zinedine Zidane’s men and the Belgian in particular were subject to heavy criticism for the poor show.
However, the capital club put the disappointment behind them and got off to a flying start in their La Liga campaign with a well-earned 3-1 win at the Balaidos. Courtois claimed that the pre-season results are now immaterial.
“We have worked hard, and at times the results haven’t gone well in pre-season due to various factors,” Courtois admitted after the match, according to Marca.
“Gareth Bale had a great game. La Liga starts from the first day and not before.
“We have worked well this week and played well in the first half. With a player less, we fought together and scored two more goals in the second half.”
Gareth Bale may have lost influence with Zinedine Zidane but his Real Madrid team-mates are still full of respect for his accomplishments, according to Casemiro.
The Wales star was seemingly set for the Bernabeu exit after a summer of transfer speculation – in which he was close to moving to China before the deal fell through – and indications that he was no longer part of Zidane’s plans.
Bale, however, made a surprise start in Real’s La Liga opener against Celta Vigo and impressed by providing an assist for Karim Benzema in a 3-1 win.
Whenever the 30-year-old leaves the Spanish capital, he will do so having played a huge part in at least four Champions League trophies and a La Liga title – and Casemiro insists he ‘has to play’.
“He [Bale] has given us titles, he’s scored in finals and he has a lot of respect from us all,” Casemiro said. “He has to play. He’s a great player and is very important for us.”
Real have stolen a march on Barcelona, who stumbled to a shock 1-0 defeat against Athletic Bilbao on opening night.
However, Casemiro added: “The Barcelona defeat doesn’t change anything. We are thinking about our football and about our matches.”