Bale was back in the team and back in form at Balaidos, with Zidane’s eagerness to sell him this summer perhaps fresh in his mind as he teed up Karim Benzema’s opening goal.
After the match, Zidane said he believes Bale will now stay, with the Spanish transfer window closing on September 2.
“We have spoken about it two or three times before, that he is going stay,” Zidane said. “All the players we have now we are thinking will be here for the season.”
Celta saw a potential equaliser chalked off before half-time and Luka Modric was sent off 11 minutes after, only for a stunning 30-yard shot from Toni Kroos to put Madrid back in control.
By the time Lucas Vazquez added a delicious third, at the end of a silky passing move, it was possible to wonder where this Madrid have been for the last 12 months, particularly as this starting line-up included not a single summer signing.
“I am a satisfied customer,” said Zidane. “We played a complete match from the beginning. Not many teams will come here and win like this.”
Zidane had wanted Paul Pogba but it was Casemiro, Modric and Kroos in midfield, the same trio he picked for the Champions League final in 2018.
There was also Marcelo, arguably Madrid’s worst performer last term, and Bale.
Only last month Zidane said it would be “best for everyone” if Bale were sold but a move to China fell through and, remarkably, the 30-year-old now looks likely to be reintegrated.
“I salute the effort of all the players, the defensive work of Gareth and Vinicius (Junior) was very important,” added Zidane.
Eden Hazard, who injured his thigh in training on Friday, will certainly start when he is fit again and there will be much tougher opponents than Celta, who finished 17th last season and were dead and buried before Iker Losada delivered a late consolation.
But, after a poor pre-season, Zidane needed a positive opening and this one was made all the sweeter by Barcelona’s defeat by Athletic Bilbao on Friday night.
Celta spent much of the match feeling aggrieved, no more so than after Benzema scored after just 12 minutes.
The home team claimed a foul by Casemiro in the build up but Bale still had a lot to do, his dart one way and then the other freeing space for a drive towards the near post, where Benzema reacted fastest.
Early on, Bale was everywhere, blocking a cross in his own penalty area before being unleashed on the break, his rasping shot pushed away by Ruben Blanco.
Celta also had their moments. Gabriel Fernandez’s lunge was just short at the back post. Brais Mendez tapped in after the impressive Denis Suarez robbed Alvaro Odriozola but Iago Aspas had strayed offside.
Benzema and Aspas both spurned chances soon after the restart before Modric was sent off for an innocuous late challenge on the heel of Suarez. Referee Javier Estrada consulted VAR and was left in no doubt.
Nestor Aruajo headed the ball straight at Thibaut Courtois but just as Madrid seemed about to give way, Kroos produced his thunderbolt from 30 yards, the ball cannoning down off the crossbar and in.
That knocked the stuffing out of Celta, who fell three down when a brilliant team move, involving Isco, Benzema and Marcelo, found Vazquez free at the back post.
Bale had been replaced by Isco, exchanging a hand slap with Zidane as he went, before Losada prodded home in injury-time.
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.
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.”