Gareth Bale: The New Flag-Bearer of Real Madrid After Ronaldo
The Champions League night in Kiev was a mixture of jubilation, disbelief and tension for Real Madrid. What was expected, a day of history for the club with the conquest of the Thirteenth European trophy, the third consecutive, also ended up becoming a succession of unforeseen events. First, Gareth Bale was a substitute. Second, he scored the best goal of his life. Third, he interrupted his celebration to imply that he valued his exit from the club. And fourth, a drastic alteration in the plans designed by President Florentino Perez, adamant since January to sell Bale this summer. On the night of May 26, in Kiev, Bale went from being a declining player to become the peerless figure of Real Madrid.
After the Champions League final, Cristiano Ronaldo’s statement, letting glimpse of his departure from Madrid was the most unexpected gestures that happened to the final. Bale's overhead kick goal and incidence in the final, should have alarmed his Portuguese teammate, knowing the influence he would have on the board. Bale’s night ended with the most bizarre outcome possible to another year of injuries and irregular performances.
From the first year, since his signing in 2013, Real coaches deprived him of the status of a marquee footballer. The stature was altogether altered in Kiev. His decisive participation ruled him out of the transfer first. The sale of Cristiano later led to the relocation of Bale as the star of the team. Finally, the recent refusal of Neymar Junior to leave Paris Saint Germain to become the new emblem of the Madrid club and the absence of alternatives of that caliber in the market, have made him the compulsory face of the new Madrid of Julen Lopetegui.
This change is rather drastic. Now Bale must play the role of team leader as the Madrid club presents him as its banner after having considered him its best source of funding. "Bale already knows its importance," they say from Chamartin. "He is aware that we won the Champions League for him. Now it's not starting from scratch, but rather the year when you can get cruise speed," they explained. In the pre-season match for Madrid against United in Miami, he was not at his best. His participation, summarized to a shot deflected in 45 minutes, was inconsequential.
The air around Bale in the Real Madrid is radically different from the one that was a few months ago. When Zinedine Zidane made the decision to dispense with the Welshman for the decisive dates, no one in Madrid denied the evidence that the attacker, far from being the star that was hired in 2013, was not already one of the starters. The blow was hard for the former Tottenham footballer. They told from the Madrid dressing room that he felt like a broken toy and that he was continually asking how a player of his level had become a substitute.
The situation was delicate for Bale and his role became secondary. He played only 99 minutes in the knockout rounds of Champions League until the final against Liverpool. His relationship with Zinedine Zidane deteriorated excessively in the last few months of the season, to the point that he was the only player of the entire squad who did not publicly react after the coach’s resignation. Nobody embraced the farewell of the Frenchman as much as Bale, now embraced by Lopetegui. "He has an opportunity to show the great footballer he has inside," new coach Julen Lopetegui encouraged Bale in Miami. "I'm happy with him. He is delighted to stay at Madrid and us what he is doing."
Lopetegui is aware of the reinvention of Bale that he proclaimed after the Man Utd match. "He did not feel the brightness of Cristiano," they say from the club. But, the reality is, his numbers improve when he is asked to lead his team from the front. Real Madrid coach is confident that the Welsh winger will step up and be a key player this season. The response from the Welshman to his new role and the absence of Cristiano will be decisive for his success in the Madrid club.