?In amongst a troubled and testing season for Real Madrid, none within the club have fallen victim of the club’s shortcomings more so than Gareth Bale.
Zinedine Zidane’s departure last summer threw a spanner into the works for the Welshman, as did the increased pressure on Bale’s shoulders from Madrid’s failure to sign a significant accomplice for Bale in attack as Cristiano Ronaldo’s replacement.
The ill-fated and short-lived term of Julen Lopetegui as head coach did little to aid ?Bale’s efforts to step up to the plate, and Santiago Solari’s succession of his compatriot at the helm of ?Madrid was enough to effectively cripple the Welshman’s hopes of a productive season.
The former Madrid star sought to stamp his authority on the side by axing a number of star names from the team in favour of younger and more industrious replacements such as Vinicius Junior and Sergio Reguilon.
However, Solari’s omissions of the likes of ?Isco, ?Marcelo and ?Marco Asensio cut Madrid short of the quality that was required for the team to meet Los Blancos’ lofty standards.
In particular, the favouring of Lucas Vazquez over Bale on the right flank was a dubious one. The Spaniard has just one goal and three assists to show for his 21 La Liga outings this term, whilst Bale has now scored eight times with only one more appearance.
Of course, a player must prove his value to his team, no matter his status or past successes. However, a top manager must also prove his worth by getting the maximum out of his best players, and both Lopetegui and Solari failed to do so.
Under Zidane, Madrid’s collection of superstars pulled together under the management of a figure with true authority to record an unprecedented hat-trick of Champions League triumphs under the Frenchman between 2016 and 2018 – and Bale was often the star.
However, the Welshman had come under increased scrutiny from fans and the Spanish press alike, especially after Los Blancos’ recent capitulation at the hands of Ajax in the Champions League. It had seemed that a summer overhaul was an inevitable consequence, in amongst which Bale’s head was on the plate.
However, Zidane’s messiah-like return has brought sudden calmness and optimism to the club, initiated by a 2-0 victory over Celta Vigo in which Bale, Isco, Asensio and Marcelo all returned to the side and, tellingly, two of those four got on the score sheet. Suddenly all does not seem so doom and gloom in Madrid.
Despite a reportedly strained relationship between the pair towards the end of Zidane’s previous tenure, the Frenchman tellingly came out in defence of Bale as one of his first significant acts to steady the ship upon his return to the Bernabeu.
“We all know the player Gareth is. We are ready, he is ready,” Zidane said, as quoted by ?BBC Sport. “I’m not going to talk about Bale’s season, I only talk about the 11 games we have left. I am counting on him like everyone else.
“You do not have to be thinking about who stays or goes, everyone has a contract here, then we will see what happens.”
Whereas Solari gave in to the angry mob of Madridistas and media hounds’ demands by singling Bale out and omitting him from his team, Zidane has boldly opted to rise above the masses and reappoint the Welshman as ‘one of the guys’. And right now, that is exactly the position that Bale needs to be afforded.
Zidane has once again made Madrid a collective, one with an identity and a clear plan with which to move forward. Bale was never the bad apple in the bunch, but rather a star which had not been allowed to shine, and one which had fallen because of misdirection from others in a broken system.
According to Jonathan Barnett, Bale’s agent via ?BBC Sport, the Welshman “wants to play all his career for Real Madrid” – that despite the undue heckling and condemnation that the 29-year-old has been subjected to in what has become a toxic environment in Madrid.
As Zidane continues his efforts to haul Madrid back on track for the remainder of the season, the Frenchman will need leaders and high-calibre stars who can match quality with commitment to the cause.
With a total of 102 goals in 224 appearances for Los Blancos, including crucial goals in two of Madrid’s four Champions League final victories during his time at the club, Bale has already proven to be the kind of leader from the front which the club has often lacked this season.
What has been missing is the leadership qualities of a coach who is capable of wading through the media hype, taking criticism of the team onto their own shoulders and affording their players a clear platform on which to perform.
Zidane has already proven that he is ready and willing to take on that mantle once more and in that sense the Frenchman’s arrival can only spell good news for Bale. The Welshman started and scored in Zidane’s first game since returning as head coach against Celta Vigo, and there is surely only more to come.
Though speculation will surely continue to mount over Bale’s future in the coming months, it would cost a significant chunk of Madrid’s transfer budget to replace the attacker, in addition to the other reinforcements which are required.
With Bale still of interest to other elite sides on the continent, including ?Manchester United, and with the likes of ?Eden Hazard set to prove difficult to acquire, Madrid already have one of Europe’s foremost and established attacking talents on their hands.
The Welshman is on the cusp of legendary status at the Bernabeu and Madrid are in great need of the quality that he is capable of delivering.
A return to the Premier League would only be a step backwards for Bale in terms of his legacy, and the cementing of his status in Madrid folklore as one of the club’s modern greats would be a far more telling and sufficiently triumphant way to conclude his decorated career.