Can Gareth Bale turn his career around?

“Gareth Bale” by Nathan Congleton is licensed underCC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Gareth Bale arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu from Tottenham Hotspur as the world’s most expensive player in 2013, signing a six-year deal. The reported sum paid by Spanish Giants Real Madrid was a world record transfer fee of £86 million to secure the services of the Welshman. Despite Spurs not winning any major trophies during his six years at White Hart Lane, Bale consistently performed and quickly became one of the most feared wingers in European football. He made the PFA Premier League Team of the Year three seasons in a row between 2010-2013; winning PFA Players’ Player of the Year for his exceptional performances in 2012/13 season. Bale terrorised Premier League defenders in the 2012/13 season scoring a remarkable 26 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions as Spurs achieved their record points tally in the a Premier League season finishing in 5th place.

​The Welshman’s move to Real Madrid can be deemed a success, scoring an impressive 105 goals in 251 appearances in all competitions for “Los Blancos”. He enjoyed a trophy laden seven years at the Spanish club winning thirteen major trophies including: four Champions Leagues, one Copa del Rey and two La Liga titles. Bale scored vital goals throughout his career at Real Madrid scoring in three different finals for “Los Blancos” clinching two Champions League trophies and one Copa del Rey. Bale produced a moment of brilliance in the 2014 Copa de Real final against arch rivals Barcelona with a spectacular solo run before a subtle finish passed keeper Jose Pinto. He scored a spectacular bicycle kick against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League to clinch Real Madrid their 13thEuropean title and his 4th for the club. 

Irrespective of his excellent performances and contributions to the club the Spanish press continuously targeted the Welshman during his Real Madrid career.  Bale struggled with reoccurring injuries during his seven years in Madrid and according to Transfermarkthe missed an incredible 69 games, and 343 days, due to injury since signing for the club in 2013. The most common injuries Bale has sustained have been hamstring injuries, calf injuries and ankle problems. Spanish tabloid AS labelled the Welsh winger the unsavoury nickname “Mr Glass” referencing his susceptibility to injury. He was also criticised that he did not show the same commitment to the club as he did for Wales and that he failed to take the mantle of talisman following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in 2018. Bale who is a naturally shy character rarely gave public interviews as he struggled to grasp the Spanish language; this is partly to blame why the Welshman never ingratiated himself to Real Madrid supporters. Spanish tabloids Marca and AS criticised Bale’s love for golf and his fondness for playing in his spare time, this was taken as a sign that the winger was not fully focused on playing football. Although, Bale did not help himself dancing with a fan’s banner which showcased his love for Wales and golf over Real Madrid in 2019 after qualifying for the 2020 European Championship. 

Bale’s dancing with the flag was seen as disrespectful by Real Madrid fans and added more tension to his increasingly frosty relationship with Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane. There has been conflict between Bale and Zidane since the Frenchman was appointed as Real Madrid manager in January 2016. Bale publicly declared his dismay at the sacking of Rafael Benitez who he enjoyed an excellent relationship with during their stint together at the club. He has struggled with injury and consistently playing since the legendary midfielder’s appointment five years ago, which has coincided with him struggling to establish himself in the starting X1 despite some glimpses of his undeniable world class talent. The Welshman’s frustrations grew more public when he was left on the bench for two consecutive Champions League finals, despite coming off the bench to score a sublime bicycle kick against Liverpool to clinch the trophy in 2018. Bale was a peripheral figure last season under Zidane only making 20 appearances in all competitions as “Los Blancos” clinched their 34th La Liga title. The emergence of exciting Brazilian winger Vinicius Junior limited Bale to sporadic first team appearances as manager Zidane made it clear the Welshman had no long term future at the club. 

The Welshman came close to leaving Madrid in the 2019 summer transfer window to Chinese side Jiangsu Suing, the deal would have seen Bale earn an eye watering £1 million per week. However, Real Madrid cancelled the deal when winger Marcos Asensiosuffered a long term knee injury which would leave “Los Blancos” short of attacking options for the rest of the season. Bale revealed in an interview with Sky Sports last September he would be open to a return to the Premier League if Real Madrid would let him leave the club. Real Madrid manager Zidane publicly stated ahead of the new season on Bale’s future: “We hope he leaves soon, it would be best for everyone. We are working on his transfer to a new team”. 

The Welshman sealed a shock return to Spurs on the 19th September 2019 on a season-long loan, with reports suggesting that Tottenham will pay £20 million in wages and loan fees. Bale said upon re-joining the club on loan “It’s a special club to me. It’s where I made my name. It’s incredible to be back and now I hope I can get some match fitness, I want to help the team and hopefully win trophies”. The Welshman would not be fit to feature for Jose Mourinho’s side until after the October International break after sustaining a knee injury playing for Wales. Unfortunately Bale’s return to Spurs has been disappointing so far with him only starting twice in the Premier League this season, and being an unused substitute in the last two fixtures after failing to impress manager Jose Mourinho. The infamously controversial Mourinho has publicly criticised the Welshman in recent weeks suggesting that he wanted to do strength and conditioning work with staff at Hotspur Way rather than play against Everton. Mourinho described Bale’s recent injury as “not obvious” before criticising him for putting up an Instagram post portraying a good session. The increasingly irate Mourinho is targeting Bale to perhaps deflect the attention away from his sides disappointing recent form which has seen Spurs slip to 9th in the Premier League. The Welsh winger has disappointed and has featured sporadically by Mourinhoscoring 4 goals in 16 appearances so far this season, despite Spurs fans hopeful that he would add another dimension to the side’s star–studded attack alongside Harry Keane and Son Heung-min.  It is looking unlikely that Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy will sanction a permanent transfer for the underperforming Welsh winger especially considering his astronomical wages. 

At 31, Bale should be enjoying the better part of his prime years but injuries, managerial preferences and loss of form have meant the Welshman’s career has come to a crossroads. His trophy laden career has shown glimpses of a world class player and hopefully with a change of club we can all see the return of the breath-taking Gareth Bale before it’s too late.

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