It’s fair to say that Gareth Bale enjoyed some fantastic moments in his first season at Real Madrid. Who can forget his astounding touchline sprint in the Copa del Rey final of 2014 against Barcelona, or that vital headed goal in the Champion’s League final, which eventually secured La Decima for Real Madrid. In the big games, and at the most important moments, Gareth Bale delivered for the club that paid a world record fee for his signature in September 2013.
But then came the point at which he was required to do it all over again, and like recording that difficult second album, Bale’s second season failed to hit the high notes of his first. A loss of form and confidence led to fewer goals and fewer assists, with telling contributions in short supply in a season that Real Madrid ended without a trophy. The heroic manager of just twelve months before, Carlo Ancelotti, was unceremoniously sacked.
And this is where we realise that Bale will never succeed at Madrid. The club is one of uniquely high expectations; record breaking, successful managers are deemed surplus to requirements by the club’s hierarchy, and even goal-machine Cristiano Ronaldo has been booed on occasion by the Bernabéu crowd. All this adds up to a seemingly impossible task for Bale, who, already burdened with being the world’s most expensive ever player, must relentlessly achieve for an impatient club with an extraordinary sense of entitlement.
So that’s off the pitch covered, but why can’t Bale succeed on the pitch? There are several reasons, with the first being the presence of one of the greatest players the world has ever seen. You’d think that playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo would raise Bale’s own performance levels, but in truth, it has left the Welshman increasingly marginalised both on and off the pitch. Ronaldo is arguably the world’s best, but he is also one of the most selfish, single-minded players that you will see, often putting personal glory ahead of the success of the team. This was most noticeable during a memorable game against Levante last season, when he seemed visibly angered that Gareth Bale had scored a goal instead of him. Not exactly ideal teammate material.
Ronaldo remains very much the main man at Real Madrid, receiving more of the ball than Bale, who is often on the edge of games, literally and figuratively, left isolated out wide. This led to extraordinary comments from his agent in February, who claimed that until his teammates pass him the ball, Bale will not be able to play his best in a Real Madrid shirt.
A player as talented as Gareth Bale will always offer the occasional moment of magic, but until he becomes the focal point of the Real Madrid side and is allowed to move out of Ronaldo’s shadow, he will never reach the heights needed to justify his price tag, let alone succeed. And, left unappreciated at a club, where success only serves to raise expectations for the next season, it may not be too long before we see Bale back in the Barclay’s Premier League.