by Daniel Roodt
“He is probably the most successful footballer Britain has ever produced. What he’s achieved for Real Madrid, they should be kissing the floor that he walks on.” This is what Gareth Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett said about his client after the Welshman’s move to Spurs.
Looking at what Bale has produced on the pitch, it is easy to agree with Barnett. The 31-year-old winger has won four Champions Leagues, two La Ligas, one Copa Del Rey, two Spanish Super Cups, four FIFA Club World Cups and three UEFA Super Cups since his then World-record move to the Spanish capital in 2013.
He scored in two of those Champions League finals, including what was arguably the greatest goal ever scored in a UCL final with his overhead kick against Liverpool in 2018. He also scored that famous goal in the Copa Del Rey final when he outpaced Barcelona defender Marc Batra after being forced out of play.
The Welsh winger scored 105 goals and provided a further 68 assists for his teammates during his time at Real Madrid. At his peak, he formed part of the famed BBC triumvirate with Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema that helped the club become the first side ever to retain the Champions League.
Looking at it all on paper, you would think Barnett would be spot on. However, it doesn’t feel that way. Bale should have left the club as a legend, except he hasn't. He fell out with manager Zinedine Zidane and the fans, and he stopped contributing on the pitch. Even when he wasn’t playing, he seemed happy to run down his lucrative contract with the club whilst playing golf on the side.
Dermot Corrigan, a journalist for The Athletic, summed this up very nicely. He said “Bale leaving Madrid with more goals for the club than Ronaldo Nazario, more assists than Beckham, more games than Figo, more trophies than Zidane and more Champions Leagues than Raul. And nobody is sorry to see him go.”
Last season seemed to be the start of Bale’s public disinterest in playing for Los Blancos. It all started with Bale and his Welsh teammates celebrating their qualification for Euro 2020 (now Euro 2021) with a Welsh flag that read ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order’. While the flag belonged to a fan, the Real Madrid star seemed more than happy for it to become the centrepiece of the team’s celebration.
During the period of football after the lockdown, Bale ramped up his antics. He barely played any games and was seen entertaining himself on the bench by pretending to sleep with his face mask over his eyes, as well as mimicking a telescope with the matchday program.
While these were all harmless gestures, they are signs of a player who clearly wanted to leave the club. However, this was not a new problem. Bale had gradually been playing less since Zidane’s arrival. This was due to a mixture of serious injuries that prevented him from playing, but also tactical changes born out of these injuries.
Real Madrid’s Champions League defence and La Liga title in 2016/17 were built on a formation that did not leave space for the Welshmen. Zidane changed to a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Isco playing in a free role behind a front two of Ronaldo and Benzema. Bale was obviously not going to displace Ronaldo, and while Benzema wasn’t prolific in front of goal, his excellent link-up play allowed Ronaldo the space to thrive. Bale was not a similar player to the Frenchman and was thus left without a clear role in the squad.
While Bale was still contributing towards the end of Zidane's first spell at the helm of Real Madrid, there were murmurs of discontent. Already after the 2018 Champions League final, Bale told BT Sport, “I need to be playing week in, week out, and that's not happened this season." He then went on to state, "I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it.” However, most unexpectedly, it would be Zidane and Ronaldo, not Bale, who would leave the Bernabeu the following season.
Bale was expected to step up and fill the void left by Ronaldo after his departure to Juventus. But, both Real Madrid and Gareth Bale failed to live up to expectations that season. In 29 La Liga matches in 2018/19 the Welshman only scored eight goals and assisted four more in a season where Los Blancos limped to a third place.
Bale couldn’t improve on this tally last season (2019/20) and he ended up scoring less and playing less. However, by all accounts, Bale should not have been playing at the Bernabeu last season. The club pulled the plug on a last-minute deal with a Chinese club during the transfer window.
This was reportedly done as a result of a lack of a transfer fee offered for the Welshman. When the deal was first agreed, this was not an issue, as Real Madrid were under the assumption that James Rodriguez would also be on his way out for a transfer fee to Atletico Madrid. However, when this deal fell through, Real Madrid was no longer willing to sell Bale for no fee, which is why they backtracked on their original agreement.
This left the Welsh star stuck in Madrid for another season warming the bench, and it was a season that will be his last for the club. It was a disappointing end to his time at the club. It was a period of much success for the team, and it is a shame it ended the way it did.
While it is still unclear as to who was at fault for this irreparable breakdown in the relationship between Bale and the club, it is now over. While he will leave as one of the clubs most successful players in recent times, it is a move that is best for all parties involved as it finally brought an end to their acrimonious relationship.
One thing is for sure, though. Gareth Bale will not be missed by many supporters of the club, and he will not be leaving the La Liga champions as a club legend.