What’s going on with Gareth Bale at Real?
Gareth Bale is making headlines in Spain – but not all for the right reasons. What’s going on with him? And what happens next?
Gareth Bale began a stuttering run-up, waited for Levante goalkeeper Aitor Fernandez to commit to his dive, then picked his spot and scored.
The successful penalty sealed a 2-1 win for Real Madrid at Levante’s Ciutat de Valencia stadium on Sunday, but the scorer was in no mood to celebrate.
Instead, he fixed his gaze at his feet and threw Lucas Vasquez’s hands off his shoulders, barely even acknowledging his team-mates as he jogged back towards the halfway line.
Santiago Solari played it down afterwards, insisting Bale was “ecstatic” in the dressing room, but few were buying it.
Alfredo Relano, the editor of Spanish sports daily AS, wrote in his column that Bale had displayed a “disgraceful attitude”, and there was condemnation in Marca, too. “That, for me, is where the beginning of the end truly begins for him,” wrote Amalio Moratalla. Bale’s “impertinence and arrogance” were not befitting of a Real Madrid player, he added.
So how has it come to this? Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus was supposed to finally thrust Bale to the forefront at Real Madrid. Instead, his sixth season in the Spanish capital has been his most difficult yet.
Bale hoped his status would grow this season, but he has lost his place in the Real Madrid team altogether. His goal against Levante was his 13th in all competitions – a figure swelled by a hat-trick in the FIFA Club World Cup – but it came from the bench and it was not the first time he has been left out of Solari’s starting line-up lately.
His frustration has spilled over more than once. The threat of a lengthy ban already hangs over him after he celebrated his goal in Real Madrid’s recent 3-1 win over Atletico with what the authorities deemed to be a “provocative gesture” aimed at home supporters at the Vicente Calderon, and he seemed even angrier on Sunday.
Bale feels he is being treated unfairly, both by fans who have booed him this season and the Madrid press who never hesitate to stick the knife in, but there is no denying that his performances have been below-par.
He has scored goals, but his numbers for chances created and dribbles are as low as they ever have been in La Liga and there have been familiar injury problems, too.
It is part of the reason why Solari now prefers Lucas Vasquez and teenager Vinicius Junior on the flanks. They provide a level of energy and impetus Bale sometimes struggles to match, while neither have experienced the Welshman’s problems with squad integration.
Indeed, when it comes to Bale, the scrutiny tends to extend to his personality as well as his performances.
That’s certainly been the case lately. Since the win over Atletico earlier this month, left-back Marcelo has joked publicly about Bale’s inability to communicate in Spanish, while goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has questioned his reluctance to attend team dinners. Judging by Bale’s body language on Sunday, he has not taken those comments well.
What happens next is unclear. At 29 and with Ronaldo now out of the picture, Bale should be enjoying the best period of his Madrid career.
But between the boos from the fans, the taunts from his team-mates and the criticism from the columnists, the ill-feeling towards him has never been higher. It is only nine months since his Champions League final heroics against Liverpool but it seems they have already been forgotten.
Bale is unlikely to be short of suitors if he does become available this summer, but a return to the Premier League may not be as realistic as it once was. Bale is only halfway through a six-year contract at the Bernabeu.
He turns 30 in July. The fees and wages involved in any potential deal would be huge – even by the standards of the big six.
Before that becomes a consideration, though, his challenge is to win back his place in the Real Madrid team and rebuild his status as best he can.
Solari praised his effort on Sunday – “When we went down to 10 men he was running for two up front,” he said – but it was inevitable that the fallout would centre on his non-celebration rather than his performance.
With a double-header against Barcelona to come this week, Bale will hope for an immediate opportunity to begin changing the narrative. If he finds himself back on the bench in those games, however, it might mark the beginning of the end for him at the Bernabeu after all.