The soap opera that is Gareth Bale’s love of golf has taken another turn with the Real Madrid star revealing that he is bemused by all the criticism he receives for his love of the sport.
Despite being a four-time Champions League winner with Los Blancos, the Spanish media often seem keener to discuss the Welshman’s golfing career than his performances on the pitch.
Case in point, Wednesday’s edition of Diario AS –which carried a picture of Bale leaning on his putter on its front page.
AS’ cover was a response to comments made by the 30-year-old on the The Eric Anders Lang Show in which he questioned the media’s objections to his obsessive pasttime.
“A lot of people have problems with me playing golf,” Bale said (via BBC Sport).
“I don’t know what their reason is because I’ve spoken to doctors and everybody’s fine with it. The media has this perception that it’s not good for me, you should be resting, it can cause you injuries.
“(Basketball player) Steph Curry plays maybe on the morning of a game, but if I play two days before a game it’s like, ‘What is he doing?'”
Criticism of Bale ramped up back in November when he celebrated Wales’ qualification for Euro 2020 by parading around with a flag that featured the now immortal slogan: ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that Order.’
Real fans booed him on his return to the club, fuelling speculation over his long term future with Manchester United and Tottenham touted as potential suitors.
No such move ever materialised with Bale enduring an unremarkable campaign overall. Ravaged by injury, the former Spurs man has made just 14 La Liga appearances, scoring two goals. He will be hoping to showcase better form with Spanish football poised to return next month.
Footballers are expensive. At the top tier of the sport the fees that clubs are willing to cough up for players without any concrete assurance that they’ll perform well is truly staggering when put in a wider context.
However, the executives with a keen eye on the club’s coffers practice the age-old business principle of ‘try before you buy’ through the loan market.
While Radamel Falcao’s Manchester United misadventure will forever serve as a disastrous example, Sheffield United’s capture of the Red Devils’ Dean Henderson can be considered as glorious evidence of an outcome at the other end of the spectrum.
As the Blades rapidly secure Manchester United’s approval for an extension to Henderson’s contract, let’s take a look at some of the other great examples of temporary employment across Europe in the last decade.
Real Madrid’s current number one cut his teeth in La Liga on the other side of the Spanish capital during a three-year loan spell with Atlético Madrid, which started one day after Chelsea snapped him up from Genk in 2011.
Courtois missed three league games in his time with Diego Simeone’s Atléti, his 6’6 frame forming a formidable figure behind a parsimonious backline as he crowned his spell in red and white with a La Liga title.
Given the sheer volume of Chelsea loanees which populate the footballing ether, it’s perhaps unsurprising to find two entrants on this list.
A 19-year-old Romelu Lukaku, desperate for minutes at senior level after spending most of his debut campaign in blue with the Under-21s, found an opportunity in the Midlands with West Brom.
The Belgian smashed in 17 Premier League goals that campaign which somehow couldn’t convince Chelsea to give him a regular starting berth. Nevertheless, Lukaku still fondly looks back at that time with The Baggies, simply summing it up as ‘dank memories’.
Newcastle were among the first to snap up some of the highly-paid talent that had gone down with QPR in 2013. Rémy swapped his hoops for black and white stripes, netting 14 goals in what would prove to be his only season on Tyneside as Mike Ashley was reticent to stump up the necessary sum.
Chelsea swooped in for the Frenchman as Newcastle dropped from 10th to 15th, but Rémy has never been able to replicate that blistering form since.
At perhaps the peak of their player recruitment powers, Toby Alderweireld joined Southampton in the summer of 2014, the same day Sadio Mané arrived on the south coast.
The Belgian centre-back had struggled for opportunities in his debut season in Spain but Saints boss Ronald Koeman, remembering Alderweireld’s time with Ajax, secured him on a season-long loan. A spell which was impressive enough to earn him a move to Tottenham Hotspur the following summer.
Three years after finishing as the 2014 World Cup’s top scorer, James Rodríguez had fallen drastically down Zinedine Zidane’s pecking order. But his loan move to perennial Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich looked to have revamped his career.
James thrived in midfield or as part of Bayern’s front-three, floating menacingly all over the pitch with a particularly memorable display coming in a 6-0 evisceration of Borussia Dortmund.
Having never hit double figures in a European top-flight campaign before donning that famous gold shirt, Jiménez seemed like something of a risk as the first-choice striker for a newly-promoted side (and so, a perfect use of the loan system).
But the Mexican knocked 13 past what the English top flight had to offer, laying on a further seven assists as Wolves produced one of the most impressive campaigns from a freshly promoted club in years.
Zapata more than doubled his previous season-high goal tally when he powered 23 Serie A goals in for Atalanta in 2018/19.
The Sampdoria loanee finished three goals short of the Capocannoniere crown, but Atalanta eased into the Champions League places and recorded the club’s highest ever Serie A finish, thanks in no small part to the Colombian’s goals.
The jet-heeled Morocco international is in the midst of a superb two-year loan spell with Borussia Dortmund. After ending his first campaign early with injury (leaving the team top of the table only for their lead to be squandered in his absence) the 21-year-old’s second season has been even more impressive.
The stamina and frightening pace which he possesses has been maximised from his new role of right wing-back. As he attempts to cover every blade of grass on that flank each match, Hakimi has added assists to his ever-expanding arsenal of skills.
Dortmund will surely be doing everything in their power to make this loan a little more permanent.
The resumption of the 2019/20 season in Spain’s top flight is edging closer, with Sevilla’s derby clash with Real Betis pencilled in as the first match to be played after the restart – potentially on 11 June.
However, due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus, a number of questions remain unanswered, while plans remain contingent upon the health and wellbeing of everyone involved.
Here’s a breakdown of the latest updates on the current plans in Spain…
The Bundesliga in Germany has, of course, already returned, and one of the major talking points has been the lack of noise while matches have been played due to the fact that fans aren’t allowed into the stadiums.
As a result, leagues have been exploring ways to improve the atmosphere and make it more appealing, and Mediapro president Jaume Roures has now revealed that crowd noises from previous matches ‘will’ be used to create an atmosphere for viewers watching live games. To that end, cameras will also be closer to the field to offer ‘different, richer and closer’ broadcasts.
“We will try to fill a gap that is almost impossible to achieve, which is the vital support that the amateur plays on the field. What we will do is recover that environment that was generated in each of the playing fields, which we have been recording all of these years, and reproduce it,” Roures told Radio Nacional de España (RNE).
“It seems to us that it helps to have a closer perception of football, although it will not be exactly the same. It will be the real environment in each of the stadiums, and will help to have a more emotional interaction with the games.”
Roures further revealed that Mediapro are in talks with La Liga regarding making football free to access for people in care homes who are suffering from the coronavirus. Roures has claimed that he hopes an official announcement can be made very soon.
“We are talking to La Liga, and I hope to make it public as soon as possible, it is to help the nursing homes to have direct access to football. Tomorrow or the day after, we will be able to provide a solution for this.
“In 24 or 48 hours we will be able to say how we are going to do it. It is a very punished group and forced to be more confined than the rest.”
La Liga president Javier Tebas has stated that plans are being discussed for kick-off times to vary depending on the region and the heat in that area. With temperatures continuing to rise as summer approaches, Tebas is keen to address the issue.
Speaking on Movistar’s #BackToWin show on Sunday (courtesy of LaLigaTV), Tebas said: “Our plan for kick-off times during the week would be to play in the afternoon or evening, between 7.30-8pm or 9.30-10pm. Over the weekend, there would be three slots: 5pm, 7.30pm, 9.30pm or 10pm. It hasn’t been decided yet, we’re looking at it with our broadcasters.
“But obviously, we’d plan for those 5pm games to be those played up on Spain’s northern coast. Places like Bilbao and San Sebastian, Oviedo and Gijon in LaLiga SmartBank, Depor and Celta over in Galicia, where temperatures in June and July don’t exceed 28°C.”
Champions League final season always throws up some amazing memories, and 26 May has seen more than its fair share of those.
Plenty of sides have reached European glory on this day in history, although there’s probably one which sticks out a little bit more than most…
Without further ado, let’s take a look at what went down on 26 May in history.
Starting with the birthday of one of the most influential figures in football history, Manchester United legend Matt Busby was born on this day in 1909.
Busby led United to five First Division titles, two of which came after he rebuilt the squad following the Munich air disaster, but his greatest moment came as he lifted the European Cup in 1968, sealing his place as one of the club’s true heroes.
Aston Villa lifted the only European Cup in their history thanks to a 1-0 win over Bayern Munich in 1982, but the hero of this game was not goalscorer Peter Withe.
Instead, it was reserve goalkeeper, 23-year-old Nigel Spink, who stole the headlines. Thrust into the action after just ten minutes following an injury to Jimmy Rimmer, Spink pulled off countless outstanding saves to keep the prolific Germans out – and it was just his second senior appearance!
One of the most prolific strikers in England history, a young Gary Lineker made his first appearance for England in a 1-1 draw with Scotland in the 1984 British Home Championship.
The 23-year-old was given 18 minutes at the end of the game, and he became the first-choice striker a little over a year later, firing 48 goals in 80 appearances before hanging up his boots in 1992.
The end to the 1988/89 First Division season is often touted as one of the greatest endings to a season ever, and rightly so.
Arsenal had fallen three points behind Liverpool heading into the final day of the season, when the two sides just so happened to face off. Arsenal’s inferior goal difference left them needing a 2-0 win at Anfield (something had not happened for over three years) if they were to win the title. You’ll never guess what happened.
Arsenal held a 1-0 lead heading into the dying embers, so Liverpool were confident of winning the title. However, John Barnes declined to run the ball into the corner and eventually lost it, allowing Arsenal to run down the other end, net a second with just one minute left on the clock and somehow win the title.
After an underwhelming campaign, AC Milan said goodbye to legendary manager Arrigo Sacchi following a 0-0 draw with Parma on this day in 1991.
He departed having won one Serie A title and two European Cups during his four-year spell at the club and is widely heralded as one of the greatest bosses of all time.
In what was the first Champions League final after the tournament’s rebranding, Marseille became the first French side to win Europe’s biggest prize with a 1-0 win over AC Milan, which also happened to be Marco van Basten’s final match.
Marseille may have been the first winners, but they weren’t actually allowed to defend their trophy. They were found guilty of match fixing during the 1992/93 Ligue 1 season and banned from competing in Europe as a result.
There have been plenty of European finals on this day in history, but none come anywhere close to matching the importance of this one.
After winning both the Premier League and FA Cup, Manchester United sealed a historic treble with a dramatic 2-1 win over Bayern Munich, who were chasing the treble themselves.
Trailing 1-0 in the 90th minute, United grabbed a late equaliser through Teddy Sheringham, before going on to bag a 93rd-minute winner through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, leaving Peter Schmeichel cartwheeling with joy.
José Mourinho won the first Champions League trophy of his career as he spectacularly led his Porto side to glory against Monaco in 2004.
Just a few months after he announced himself by sprinting down the Old Trafford touchline, Mourinho proved to the world why he was the greatest up-and-coming manager around, and it was Chelsea who won the race for his signature that summer.
Huddersfield Town came out on top against Sheffield United in the League One playoff final in 2012, but only after a dramatic 22-penalty shoot-out.
Huddersfield goalkeeper Alex Smithies netted the crucial penalty which, after United counterpart Steve Simonsen fired his effort over the bar, proved to be the winner.
Real Madrid won their third consecutive Champions League title in 2018 by beating Liverpool in a game which is remembered for both outstanding and atrocious football.
A collision with Sergio Ramos forced Mohamed Salah off early, before goalkeeper Loris Karius forgot how to play football and gifted Real two shocking goals. However, the highlight was obviously Gareth Bale’s overhead kick, which could well be the greatest goal in the history of the competition.
A team of Manchester United legends gathered to face a lineup of Bayern icons to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their historic treble win in 2019.
The Treble Reunion ended in a 5-0 win for United, with David Beckham rolling back the years and dominating the game. Many fans even wanted to see him given a contract with the first team, and it’s not hard to see why.
Finding a tenner in an old pair of jeans on your way to the shops. Dropping a slice of toast which lands butter side up. Benoit Assou-Ekotto picking up an injury and the young left-back slouching around on your bench happening to be one of the best players in the world.
There’s nothing like a bit of luck at the right time, is there?
For Tottenham Hotspur, Gareth Bale’s unexpected 2010 run of form, which announced him as one of the game’s modern greats, seemed like the ultimate four-leaf clover,.
But it’s not said enough just how much this one bit of good fortune changed the trajectory of the club for an entire decade, and perhaps forever.
Typically, it was Bale who was framed as needing a bit of the good old rub of the green, with the Welshman to Spurs what Jonah was to sailing in his first few years at the club.
Indeed, Harry Redknapp famously had to bring Bale on in garbage time during a 5-0 thrashing of Burnley in order to free him from the albatross of a 24-match winless run with the Lilywhites.
But does anyone seriously believe that, had the famed sliding doors moment actually happened and taken the Welshman to Birmingham, Bale would simply have festered into obscurity? Would Franck Queudrue really have been too much competition for a bloke who went on to score an overhead kick in a Champions League final.
No, Spurs, for all their admirable track record in developing youth products, were blessed by association with Bale rather than the other way round.
First off, there’s the somewhat obvious stuff – in 2009/10 Spurs came flying out of the blocks, and by December had a precarious advantage over Manchester City and Liverpool in the tussle for a Champions League berth.
However, there’s that thing with Spurs and, shall we say, disappointing one’s expectations in violent and sudden fashion, and to say they had a bit too much turkey was an understatement as starting from Boxing Day they won only two out of eight games.
The whole situation stunk worryingly of lasagne, so when Bale, fully bedded in the side and acquiring a reputation as the scourge of Premier League defenses, inspired Spurs to five consecutive wins, the collective sigh of relief around N17 was massive.
His trademark performances came in two of the matches that would define Spurs’ season, and arguably their transition into a somewhat serious footballing outfit in the 2010s.
Spurs hadn’t beaten Arsenal in the league since 1999. Chelsea were soon-to-be Champions. Within 72 glorious hours goals from Bale had downed the both of them, and after Peter Crouch put his noggin on the end of Younes Kaboul’s cross at the Etihad, the rest was history.
It hardly needs saying just how important Bale was in keeping Spurs competitive during the years that followed.
The Real Madrid man was the architect behind a famous home win against reigning Champions League holders Inter, while Andre Villas-Boas all but swapped his detailed tactical Powerpoint presentation for a ‘just pass it to Bale and hopefully he’ll put it top bins’ strategy in 2012/13.
Some would say that Spurs were deeply unlucky during this period, missing out on Champions League football due to an array of factors, from Redknapp being offered the England job, to a bonkers game between Arsenal and West Brom, to Chelsea presumably making a deal with the devil to somehow beat Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League final.
But in truth, in a jumbled team (Alan Hutton played much more than you’d think during their first season in the Champions League), Bale, alongside the wantaway Luka Modric and the inconsistent genius Rafael Van der Vaart, was performing feats of alchemy almost every week.
His greatest trick, however, and the most meaningful one for Tottenham in their current iteration, was allowing Spurs to attract a new calibre of player.
With Tottenham now serious contenders for European football every season, and known for feats of derring-do against Serie A giants in the Champions League, some pretty good players decided that North London was the place to be.
Jan Vertonghen. Hugo Lloris. Moussa Dembele. Actual internationals who had won stuff wanted a slice of the action at Spurs now.
These players kept Spurs in the hunt for some kind of meaningful European-adjacent football during some abject excuses for management (naming no names, but if the gilet fits…) and, crucially, stopped them from descending into any kind of obscurity.
Also, it’s probably about time to address what Spurs actually did with the Bale money after he went to Madrid.
Yes, they spent a sizeable chunk of it on Roberto Soldado, but they also got Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela out of it, and were able to refresh their squad by selling a sizeable quantity of deadwood as a result.
The consequence of all of this, which could only have been possible through Bale? A certain Mauricio Pochettino could actually look at Tottenham as a decent step up from Southampton, where he had the raw materials to build a side which would eventually fall one game short of conquering Europe.
Redknapp has rightfully earned a lot of credit for acting as the catalyst for any of this, while Damien Comolli’s work behind the scenes at Spurs deserves a more positive appraisal than it initially received.
But while both of these man, and Martin Jol before them, made it possible for Spurs to be the best of the rest, Bale, the dice that you could roll again and again and always get your lucky number, elevated them and made them stick.
It remains to be seen whether Spurs have taken one punt too many with their latest appointment, but with rumours of a return for Bale forever circulating, you wonder whether the two parties might fancy spinning the wheel one more time.