Gareth Bale appears to have come to a crossroads in his footballing career. While, on the surface level, it looks like the Welshman has everything any player might ever wish for, his time in Madrid has not reached the level as to which was expected of him. Bale remains a warm up act rather than the headline show.
The former Tottenham winger’s career with Real Madrid started swimmingly, emphasised by scoring two goals that won two very important trophies for Los Blancos. The first was that wonderfully mazy run against Barcelona in the Copa del
Rey final. And just one month later, Bale was finding the back of the net in extra time to seal the win for Los Blancos against Atlético Madrid in the Champions League. A European night that will go down in Madrid’s history due to how long their 10th Cup evaded them.
In his first year, the Wales international scored 22 goals and assisted 19 in 44 appearances. Two of those goals were in finals. The future was incredibly bright for Bale and the investment of £90 million looked like it had already paid off. Real Madrid’s fans are notoriously hostile and can change their tune to a player within a second, but they had warmed to him because of the promise shown.
The following year wasn’t as prolific. Madrid struggled under Carlo Ancelotti, who eventually lost his job and left for Bayern Munich. Bale’s numbers were steady: 17 goals, 12 assists in 48 appearances from the wing. The Welshman might have had visions of eventually usurping Cristiano Ronaldo and being the headline act in Madrid, but those fantasies were not coming to fruition any time soon.
Throughout the 2015/16 season, Bale picked up more and more injuries to do with his calf, which kept him out for a vast amount of games. This was the start of Bale’s downfall in the Spanish
capital - Zinedine Zidane, the new manager, couldn’t trust his fitness and therefore had to make plans without him.
While the winger was in and out of the team, his stats remained strong as he contributed to 34 goals in 31 appearances - technically, his best return per-game in a Los Blancos shirt, but it was constantly being interrupted with injuries. Madrid’s fans started to turn somewhat and that warm, glowing support he once had was vanishing quickly.
Last season, Bale was at his poorest. He was only fit enough to play in 27 games where he contributed to 14 goals. While Bale was on the sideline, Marco Asensio stepped up to the plate and has barely looked back or caught breath of his whirlwind career so far. Isco, too, has been a pivotal figure in Madrid’s attack since the Welshman has been a more prominent figure on the injury table.
While Bale has been slowly, but surely, getting back to his best in Madrid colours, the President, Florentino Pérez, is said to be open to the idea of selling the winger for the right amount of money this summer. With Chelsea failing to secure Champions League football next season, Madrid might feel that this is the perfect opportunity to prize Eden Hazard away from Stamford Bridge. To do so, Bale will have to be long gone.
There is no doubting that Bale has the lifestyle out in Madrid: a beautiful city, eye-watering wages, playing with the best players in the world and competing for the major trophies - what more could you want? Well, if you are Bale, perhaps the centre stage; something that he angled for when first joining the 12-time European winners.
While Bale might have thought that he could eventually become the talisman of this Los Blancos team, Ronaldo’s performance and overall influence has only risen since Bale’s absences from the team began. It now looks as if it will be
former Spurs man that leaves before the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Bale would welcome a return to the Premier League, but the question is more about which club can afford his transfer fee and wages. Madrid will not want to make a loss on the deal, and the market has only escalated since Pérez signed him in 2013. The Welshman is reportedly on £300,000 per week, which is a huge commitment for one of the top six clubs to make.
Spurs are ruled out due to their wage cap at £100,000 per week. Arsenal are unlikely due to Bale’s allegiance with their North London rivals and would struggle to pay the transfer fee. Manchester United recently signed Alexis Sánchez and have other priorities this summer. That leaves Chelsea and Manchester City. Both could afford him, but it is not a position that either desperately need to recruit in.
The Premier League would love to see Bale back to his best in England, performing week in, week out. It will be an incredibly difficult operation in recruiting him, but it’s not impossible. Providing you can offer Real Madrid something they want - either money, a Spanish goalkeeper or a Belgian winger - Bale will become available.
For Bale, at 28-years-old, this summer seems pivotal in whether he’s going to make the step to become the main player at a major European club, or if he is to continue as Ronaldo’s understudy and not reach the heights that he looked destined to achieve.
This article has been written by Liam Canning for Soccer Box. Shop with us for all your official Real Madrid football kit and other team merchandise.