ARTICLE by Tomos Wyn Jones.
PICTURE by BBC/Getty Images shows Bale at the Tottenham Hotpsur Stadium.
GARETH BALE has made a sensational return to Tottenham Hotspur, seven years after the Welshman signed as a ‘Galactico’ for Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Having been part of one of Real Madrid’s greatest generatiion, the Wales captain won several major honours with Los Blancos, with four Champions League winning medals undoubtedly standing at the top of his collection.
Here, I look back at Bale’s overall successful time with Madrid, and explore where it went wrong towards the end of his time in the Spanish capital.
2013/14 Season (Copa Del Rey & UEFA Champions League)
Having won the 2012/13 PFA Player of the Year award as a Spurs player, Bale was one of the hottest prospects in world football. Scoring 26 and assisting a further 15 goals across all competitions, Real Madrid were keenly interested in the Welshman, and on August 1, 2013, the Spanish club broke the world record fee for Bale, spending £85.1 million as the players signed a lucrative six-year deal.
And Bale made an immediate impression, scoring on his debut against newly promoted Villarreal, before being substituted by Argentinian Angel Di Maria. But Bale struggled with injury throughout the first half of the season too, only playing five full games.
The Welsh winger later stood out against Sevilla drawing, excellent praise from the Spanish media who labelled him ‘The Cannon’. But it was perhaps his performance against Schalke in the round of 16 of the Champions League that officially cemented his place in Madrid’s starting XI. That night, Bale scored twice and assisted once in a 6-1 rout for Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Things got even better for the Welshman on April 16 of that season, as he scored one of the goals of the season in a 2-1 victory over bitter rivals FC Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final. It looked like Marc Bartra had done enough to prevent Bale from getting to the ball, but the winger out-sprinted the Catalan from the half way line, before converting past Jose Manuel Pinto to score the decisive winner, and his 20th goal of the season – and one that is famous by now.
Having played a pivotal role in the 5-0 demolition of Bayern Munich over two legs in the Champions League semi-final, Bale started in the Real Madrid side who would face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final on May 24 in Lisbon. Having trailed 1-0 for the majority of the game, Sergio Ramos scored a late equaliser to take the game to extra time, and Bale ended up scoring the decisive winner five minutes into second half of extra time, netting a header from close range to secure Los Blancos’ tenth European Cup title. Further goals from Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo secured the win, and Bale had helped Madrid end there 12-year drought in the Champions League, as he finished the season with 22 goals and 16 assists to his name, in addition to forming an impeccable front line with Karim Benzema and Ronaldo.
2014/15 Season (UEFA Super Cup & FIFA Club World Cup)
Bale started the new season in brilliant form, assisting Ronaldo’s first goal in a 2-0 win against Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Another performance, against former Spanish champions Deportivo La Coruna, received wide praised in Spain, scoring twice and assisting in an 8-2 routing in September 2014.
By Christmas time, Bale had scored in yet another major final, scoring the second goal in a 2-0 victory against Copa Libertadores champions San Lorenzo to claim the club’s first ever FIFA Club World Cup.
However, Bale found the second half of the season difficult, facing criticism from his own fan base in some games, in particular during a fixture against Espanyol when he failed to pass to Ronaldo in front of goal, who was subsequently in a better scoring position.
On April 18, the Welshman’s season came to an end after sustaining a calf injury against Malaga. Inevitably, Bale and his team mates failed in their pursuit to defend their European title, and lost out on the La Liga title by a single point to Catalan rivals Barcelona, who eventually went on to secure the treble.
2015/16 Season (UEFA Champions League)
After Ancelotti’s exit from Madrid, former youth coach and Champions League winner Rafael Benitez took over the reins at the Bernabeu. Bale adapted well under the Spaniard in the opening matches, standing out with his two goals against Real Betis in September, moving his, Benzema and Ronaldo’s goal tally to 200 scored between them since the Welshman’s arrival in September 2013.
However, results started to decline for Madrid, and Bale also struggled for form and fitness, and topped it all off by being part of the side who were demolished 4-0 by Barcelona on home soil.
But this may have been Bale’s wake up call, and he reacted superbly in the following games, scoring his first quadruple for the club in an emphatic 10-2 victory against Rayo Vallecano. The curtains fell on Benitez on January 4, after a 2-2 draw against Valencia (In which Bale scored), and he was replaced by club legend and Madrid ‘B’ side coach Zinedine Zidane.
Bale again made quite the impression on his new boss, securing his second match ball in a 5-0 thumping of Deportivo La Coruna. After gathering excellent momentum in his goal scoring form, Bale suffered a second calf injury in less than a year, and side-lined until early March.
Upon his return, he scored Madrid’s final goal in a 7-1 thumping of Celta Vigo.
Bale later became Britain’s best La Liga’s goal scorer, surpassing Gary Lineker’s record of 42 goals by netting against Sevilla. Having been at the heart of yet another successful Champions League season, Bale started and assisted captain Ramos’ goal in the final against Atletico Madrid, before scoring a penalty in the shootout which resulted in his second and Los Blancos’ 11th Champions League victory after a 5-3 shootout victory, 1-1 draw (AET). Bale ended the season with his best ever La Liga goal tally, registering 19 goals.
2016/17 Season (La Liga & UEFA Champions League)
After coming back from a successful 2016 European Championship with Wales, Bale was back in Madrid and he started the season in sharp form, netting twice at San Sebastian in an impressive 3-0 victory against Real Sociedad.
By October, he was awarded a contract extension with Real Madrid until June 2022. However, the Welshman was dealt by a huge blow as he damaged his ankle tendons in a 2-1 win against Sporting CP in the group stage of the Champions League, which would unfortunately rule him out until March 2017.
Bale had struggled for form since returning from injury, and on his one-hundredth appearance in La Liga against Barcelona, was forced off with yet another injury.
This was the first season where Bale hadn’t reach double figures in goals (9), highlighting the impact the injuries had on him. Despite that, he contributed in Madrid’s first La Liga title since 2011/12, and made it a hat-trick of Champions League titles, coming off the bench in his hometown of Cardiff in a 4-1 victory against Italian giants Juventus.
2017/18 Season (UEFA Super Cup, Supercopa de Espana, FIFA Club World Cup & UEFA Champions League)
Bale and his teammates enjoyed a joyous August, beating Manchester United 2-1 in the UEFA Super Cup and routing 5-1 against Barcelona over two legs in the Supercopa de Espana.
Bale secured his fifth trophy of 2017 by bagging the FIFA Club World Cup in December, coming off the bench in a 1-0 win over Copa Libertadores winners Grêmio.
Although he had enjoyed one of his best goal-scoring seasons, he remained in the shadow of Real Madrid’s greatest ever goal scorer Cristiano Ronaldo and continued to be selected inconsistently by Zidane.
However, it was Bale that Madrid had to thank in May, as his two goals secured Los Blancos’ thirteenth European Cup title. An unstoppable bicycle kick and an audacious effort on goal that slipped through Loris Karius’ gloves secured a 3-1 victory over Liverpool in Kiev.
In doing this, Bale created history by becoming the first player to score twice in a Champions League final, and was subsequently named Man of the Match.
2018/19 Season (FIFA Club World Cup)
There was a big overhaul at Madrid during the summer of 2018, with club legend Ronaldo transferring to Serie A champions Juventus, and Zidane quitting the club after two-and-a-half years in charge.
Initially, these moves seemed as though they would benefit Bale, as he was awarded Real Madrid’s Player of the Month award for August, scoring against fellow Madrid side Getafe during the month.
New manager Julen Lopetegui struggled, and a defeat against Barcelona was the final nail in the coffin for him, as he was sacked and replaced by former player Santiago Solari.
Under Solari, Bale continued his good form, and took it to the Club World Cup, netting a hat-trick against Japanese side Kashima Antlers in the semi-final, and then starting in the final against Al-Ain, winning the game 4-1 and securing Bale’s third Club World Cup winners’ medal.
Bale was experiencing a mixed season on and off the field, with teammate Thibaut Courtois mentioning Bale hadn’t come out for dinner with his teammates as it was ‘too late at night’. Also, left back Marcelo claimed that Bale didn’t speak much Spanish, which may suggest his isolation between his football career and other interests, family etc.
Despite all these controversies, Bale scored his one-hundredth goal for Los Blancos in a 3-1 away victory over City rivals Atletico Madrid, sparking even more debate with his celebration towards the home crowd.
Having scored 14 goals across all competitions, he inevitably struggled to fill the void left by Ronaldo and failed to help Madrid reclaim the La Liga title, as the club finished third, and exited the Champions League early against Ajax, losing 5-3 on aggregate (4-1 at home).
2019/20 (La Liga)
Bale’s relationship between Madrid, the manager and the fans turned very sour during this season. During the summer, of 2019 the Welshman came close to leaving the Spanish capital and departing for Chinese outfit Jiangsu Suning, but that was called off by Madrid at the last hurdle.
Returning manager Zidane sent contrasting messages to the media, claiming in August that Bale was close to leaving, but by October revealed that Bale had never asked to leave the Bernabeu.
By November, Bale had made his feelings clear after Wales had qualified for Euro 2020, by sending out the message ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order’ via a flag, further prioritising his country and other sporting hobby above the Spanish Giants.
The fans certainly didn’t find a funny side to this, and were instantly erasing his memory from a club he had contributed so much too.
Bale featured 16 times during the league season and scored only twice in La Liga, but that still resulted in the Welshman winning his second La Liga title.
The COVID-19 pandemic halted the season until June and Bale only featured in one game post lock-down, and during the trophy celebration, the Welshman looked very disinterested whilst with his teammates.
Bale was now in a position where all parties wanted the Welshman to part way with Los Blancos. He was linked with several top clubs across Europe, including Manchester United, but the Welshman eventually decided to return to Tottenham Hotspur where he had first broke out onto the world stage, though the initial deal is a season long loan.
Bale will hope to impact the Spurs side, and more importantly, put a smile back on his face on a football pitch – which is something we haven’t seen at club level for a long time.
It is difficult to envisage Bale in a Real Madrid shirt again, but a return home to Spurs may well revive his football career, and prove many of his doubters wrong once again. Croeso nôl a phob lwc i ti Gareth!