By Mark Doyle
Gareth Bale leaving Real Madrid is the right move for everyone concerned.
The past year has been a waste of the winger’s time and a waste of Madrid’s money. He may have rarely featured on the field but his mere presence in the stands had become an unwanted distraction.
“There’s no getting around the fact that the situation is unsatisfying for everyone,” midfielder Toni Kroos told the Lauschangriff podcast in July.
Bale had, as former Madrid forward Predrag Mijatovic put it, become a problem, one which has now been solved, with the Welshman having returned to Tottenham Hotspur.
It may only be a loan deal but there will be no going back. His time at the Santiago Bernabeu is over, which is a good thing for the player and the club; that much is clear.
However, what is less certain is how he will be remembered at Real.
Former Tottenham team-mate Andros Townsend recently claimed Bale deserves a statue at the Santiago Bernabeu – but that definitely won’t be happening.
There won’t even be the customary parting press conference, at which exiting icons usually make a tearful farewell speech to the club.
Bale certainly isn’t sorry to be leaving; and the Madrid press were glad to see him go. The front page of Thursday’s AS newspaper read “Bye Bale”, which was meant to be as dismissive as it sounded.
The Spanish press turned on Bale a long time ago, of course. He was repeatedly criticised for his perceived lack of commitment, an alleged unwillingness to immerse himself in the club, the culture and – most damningly of all as far as the media was concerned – the language.
Bale’s failure to demonstrate in public a command of Spanish became a stick with which to beat him, particularly during times when he was struggling for form – or more regularly – fitness.
The Welshman had hardly helped the situation, of course, with that infamous flag adorned with the words: ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order.’
That may have been amusing to his compatriots and colleagues but nobody at the Bernabeu saw the funny side. Likewise, his antics on the Madrid bench at the tail end of last season – pretending to be asleep and his improvised telescope – went down like a lead balloon.
There were understandable and justifiable allegations of disrespect and a lack of professionalism. However, Bale’s seven-year stint at Madrid must, though, be viewed in its entirety and without prejudice.
Did his childish antics tarnish his Madrid legacy? Undoubtedly. But should they detract from his extraordinary feats on the field? Absolutely not.
Bale’s time on the pitch was restricted by persistent fitness problems and the complete absence of anything resembling a relationship with coach Zinedine Zidane.
Yet even the coach conceded on Saturday that Bale had been “spectacular”. His statistics are certainly impressive. He scored 105 goals, and created a further 57, in 251 appearances in all competitions for Madrid.
It isn’t just about the numbers, though. Bale didn’t just contribute; he did so in big games, often in spectacular fashion, netting some of the most iconic and important goals in Madrid’s history.
The stunning solo strike which beat Barcelona in the 2014 Copa del Rey final – when he deliberately ran off the pitch in order to get around Marc Batra – took the breath away.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” a gobsmacked Xabi Alonso told reporters at the time.
Just a couple of months later, he scored the crucial go-ahead goal in Real’s come-from-behind win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final in Lisbon, which secured the club a historic 10th European Cup.
Better was to come, of course. In the 2018 tournament decider against Liverpool, Bale conjured up one of the finest goals in Champions League history, finding the back of the net with a stunning overhead kick just seconds after coming off the bench.
Granted, everything since that decisive two-goal salve in Kyiv has been a disappointment. Bale was meant to assume Cristiano Ronaldo’s mantle as team leader following the Portuguese’s transfer to Juventus that summer; instead, he became a bit-part player, a burden on los Blancos’ bank balance.
His exit, then, was inevitable, and essential. There will be plenty of bitterness of his departure, and understandably so. His behaviour has not won him any friends in the Spanish capital.
But Bale should be remembered as Real’s last great Galactico. Indeed, he not only won more medals at Madrid than the likes of Luis Figo, Ronaldo, David Beckham and Zidane, he arguably produced more magical and meaningful memories too.
Former president Ramon Calderon argued that the 31-year-old can’t be deemed a “successful signing”. Yet Madrid wouldn’t have won four Champions League in five years without Bale. There can be no debate over that.
His role in Real’s recent success cannot be overlooked just because some fans and journalists no longer like him. The previous two years don’t negate the preceding five.
Bale might not be remembered as a club legend but his name cannot be simply erased from Madrid’s history; he helped them make it.
– Culled from goal.com
By Mark Doyle