Gareth Bale looks on the brink of an exit from Real Madrid in a manner that, if slightly bizarre even now, would have been unthinkable when he first joined the club in 2013.
Speaking at his latest press conference, Real manager Zinedine Zidane was brutal on what sounds like an imminent departure for Bale, quoted by BBC Sport as saying: “We hope he leaves soon. It would be best for everyone. We are working on his transfer to a new team. I have nothing personal against him, but there comes a time where things are done because they must be done.”
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Perhaps this should not come as a big surprise. This is Real Madrid, after all; the club who sacked Fabio Capello just 11 days after he won the 2006/07 La Liga title because the style of football wasn’t good enough, as reported by BBC Sport at the time. More recently, Carlo Ancelotti was also shown the door less than a year after winning the club’s 10th Champions League title.
ICYMI: Why Bale's agent is furious ? pic.twitter.com/CNMAUyeiIS
— Goal (@goal) July 21, 2019
So what hope could Bale possibly have of surviving at the Bernabeu, despite, you know, scoring a stunning solo goal to seal a Copa del Rey final victory over Barcelona, no less, in 2014, or netting in two Champions League final victories, arguably as man of the match in the 2018 victory over Liverpool with one of the competition’s most memorable strikes – an overhead kick Zidane himself would have been proud of.
The truth is, Bale may well have been doomed from the day he completed what was at the time a world-record move from Tottenham to Madrid in 2013 (fee per BBC Sport) – as the spotlight was immediately on how this big-money move might affect his team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
As noted in this detailed piece by the Mirror, the pair have always been scrutinised to a frankly ridiculous degree. Though they most likely had a fairly professional relationship, with Bale probably treated no worse by Ronaldo than most other players, there has always been a laser-like focus on the body language of the duo on the pitch together, or in training. Ronaldo has supposedly reacted badly to Bale scoring goals, while the Welshman’s agent is also quoted as weighing in on things in an unhelpful manner.
In this clash of personalities, there was only ever going to be one winner. That is no criticism of Bale’s character, merely of the unique over-confidence of the Portuguese superstar, and the untouchable status he’d perhaps unsurprisingly reached in Madrid, despite arguably taking the club for a ride on more than one occasion with threats to leave before being awarded one huge new contract after another.
At last, Ronaldo finally left the Spanish capital last summer for a big move to Juventus, perhaps finally allowing Bale the chance to become the main man in the team. But by this point the damage had already been done, with the 30-year-old perhaps not helping himself with his comments made immediately after his two-goal heroics in the Champions League final:
"I need to be playing week-in-week-out…that hasn't happened this season."
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) May 26, 2018
Rather than being particularly celebratory, Bale told BT Sport in the clip above that he needed to play week in, week out and that he could not understand why Zidane had continued to snub him. While he may well have had a point, it led to more unsettling headlines and negativity surrounding the player, with the notoriously demanding Los Blancos fans never likely to forgive him.
By this point, Eden Hazard transfer links were in full flow, and a transfer seemed inevitable for a good year before he finally made the move from Chelsea this summer. While the Belgian may well be seen as more of a direct Ronaldo replacement, his arrival also puts the writing on the wall for Bale’s career.
Since that post-Champions League final outburst, Marcelo has been quoted by AS as saying Bale *still* doesn’t speak Spanish, so barely communicates with the rest of the Madrid squad, while the Express quote Thibaut Courtois as essentially mocking the former Tottenham man with the nickname ‘the golfer’, whilst signalling again just how much of an outsider he is in the team due to not joining the rest of the players out for dinner as the Madrid lifestyle of going out to eat late at night is not for him.
We can never know for sure, but it would not be altogether surprising if this is all part of a deliberate strategy from inside the club to paint Bale as an outsider, and for putting in minimal effort to settle in Spain. Intentional or not, it’s had that effect.
With fault seeming to lie on both sides, it now looks like Bale’s time at the Bernabeu is about to end in a whimper, despite 102 goals in 231 games, four Champions League titles, one La Liga, one Copa del Rey. Bale would surely be departing a legend during almost any other era at the club. He is guilty most of all for overtaking Ronaldo’s transfer fee – something beyond his control – and for then not being Ronaldo.
These are the extremely harsh conditions in which one has to succeed at Real, and they’ve ensured that what could quite justifiably have been one of the great careers in modern European football will be remembered as anything but.