It’s been a surprisingly tough few weeks for Gareth Bale. The player who had a fairytale first season at Real Madrid could be forgiven for thinking that he had credit in the bank with fans but it’s not the case. A section of match-going supporters have been on his back for opting to shoot in scenarios when a pass might be wiser.
Teammates throwing him under the bus doesn’t help either. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez orchestrate a chorus of boos by openly scolding him. However, the accusation that Bale is the selfish one in this Madrid team is preposterous. Here are five reasons why Real Madrid fans shouldn’t boo Bale.
1) He’s a truly gifted athlete
Having been promoted to the Southampton first team at the age of 16, it was clear from the beginning that Gareth Bale was a special talent. Back then he was a left-back, one that was being watched by top English clubs. He signed for Tottenham but the move came too soon and he was initially a flop. In fact, he was worse than that. He was a Jonah.
Spurs couldn’t find a win with Bale in their team for two years. It took 24 games for them to pick up three points with him in the side. At one point during that streak they had given up on Bale and he was offered to Birmingham. Illustrating how low his stock had fallen, they passed on taking him for £3 million.
Things began to change for Bale after that confidence-boosting victory. Spurs clicked under Harry Redknapp and Bale was beginning to enjoy himself in a marauding role from full-back. He had license to roam because he proved that he had the energy to cover the flank single-handedly. Permanent promotion from a wing-back position came after he annihilated Inter Milan in the Champions League.
In that game he displayed the raw materials that would transform him into one of football’s most dangerous and unique attackers. His technical ability is far from lacking either with inch-perfect delivery and wicked set-piece prowess in his locker. He’s developed physically from a weedy sprinter to a beefed-up juggernaut. The evolution of Bale is genuinely fascinating.
2) That incredible goal in the Copa del Rey final
As full time approached the scores were tied at 1-1 in the Copa del Rey final. Real Madrid and Barcelona had largely cancelled out one another but momentum was with Barca after Marc Bartra headed in an equaliser. They were launching an attack but left themselves open to a break. The quintessential counter-attacker would punish that.
Fabio Coentrao picks up the ball and does well to keep it in play after dodging two opponents. He passes up the left flank to Bale who doesn’t have time to control the ball. Bartra is closing him down so he simply kicks the ball beyond him. The defender thinks he’s got the situation under control by blocking Bale’s path and forcing him to take route off the pitch. He’s wrong.
As the Sky Sports commentator says, Bale goes from lane one to lane eight and still manages to sprint past Bartra. He dribbles to the doorstep of Jose Manuel Pinto, the Barcelona goalkeeper, before tapping the ball beyond him and into the back of the net. The camera shows celebrating Madrid players before cutting to the dejected bodies lying sprawled on the floor wondering how it’s remotely fair to play against a freak of nature.
3) He’s humble and rather likable
If Bale doesn’t fit in at Madrid it’s more to do with a lack of ego than a lack of talent. In a Champions League match last season it was interesting to note how the Madrid front three reacted to missed opportunities.
Karim Benzema clearly didn’t care a jot. The French striker skied a shot but could not muster a shrug. He didn’t feel like he had to apologise for shooting, no matter the quality of his effort. Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, argued with the gods after every wayward attempt. He would shake his fist at the heavens and curse his multi-million pound existence in a self-important manner.
When Gareth Bale missed a shot he would say sorry to his teammates. Despite producing a stellar ratio of goals and assists, sheepish apologies aren’t saving him from the wrath of sniffy Madrid fans. Now he is being accused of not passing enough, accused of being greedy, but his colleagues have escaped such scornful assessment.
He spoke out about recent links to Manchester United, saying he couldn’t see himself at the club. While this might seem remarkably shortsighted from a man who, against all odds, became the most expensive player of all time, it’s also commendable that he didn’t give an ambiguous answer. The likes of Ronaldo and Barcelona counterpart Lionel Messi have been known to use these opportunities to gain leverage in talks for improved contracts.
4) He’s the man who delivered La Decima
Gareth Bale essentially paid back the £85 million fee Real Madrid paid Spurs for him on May 24th 2014. That was the evening that Madrid beat their city rivals Atletico in the Champions League final. An almighty triumph and a long-awaited one too. The most decorated club on the continent, Madridistas had been banging on about ‘La Decima’ ever since Zinedine Zidane nonchalantly granted them La Novena with a sweetly struck volley.
Twelve years had passed since that goal downed Bayer Leverkusen and hundreds of millions had been spent by Madrid in an attempt to secure a tenth European title. Fashionable saviours like Kaka and Robinho, dubbed the new Pele after his emergence from the Santos production line, couldn’t deliver. Even Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t swindle this holy grail. Instead it was a Welsh lad from the Southampton academy who scored the winning goal in Lisbon.
5) It’s not his fault that he’s Welsh-born and Southampton-made
Match-going Real Madrid fans can be shallow and snobbish. This is only natural given that the club have a similarly impersonal attitude toward their players. Professional football clubs are businesses, there’s no mistaking this. But Madrid are on a different level. Club president Fiorentino Perez is currently spearheading the club’s second Galactico era. Hence the massive sum of money spent on Bale.
The idea behind splashing the cash freely is that the club will get it back through commercial means. This is an effective strategy when it comes to annual turnover but can produce mixed results on the pitch. In recent years style was preferred over substance. For example, Madrid preferred David Beckham to Ronaldinho in 2003 because the Brazilian was ‘too ugly’ to be a success.
Madridistas treat the Bernabeu like a theatre and seek out heroes to cheer for and villains to boo. Bale is deemed not nearly exotic or sexy enough to get away with substandard performances. The crowd should rally behind players when they falter but instead resemble an angry mob who are displeased because they aren’t being entertained.
Luka Modric encountered the same problem in his first season. While blessed with masterful technical ability, Modric doesn’t have the face of a model and also came from Spurs, a club dwarfed by the shadow of Madrid. Through grit and determination, he won the love of supporters who came to realise that he was an artist to be adored. Given what Bale has done to earn their adoration, it’s hard to tell if they will ever learn to appreciate the Welshman.