Guess what? Gareth Bale is good at football. Like, actually.
You know it, I know it, and hopefully for the Welshman, Zinedine Zidane is starting to discover it.
By now it should be common knowledge in the sporting world that Bale is more than capable with a ball at his feet. And no, not that ball. Instead, the lights are starting to flicker in Madrid that they possess a player whose ability is warranted in the famous white. The only issue is, the room was already brightly lit, and nobody could see it.
Cast aside like a used toothpick, it became glaringly apparent that Zidane felt he had already used his pointy wooden stick to freshen up his pearly white trophy case, and that Bale’s course had well and truly run.
Shunned from the starting XI, and ultimately ostracised entirely from the matchday squad; what transpired was a personal agenda against a man who, on the final day of the previous season, had scored arguably the greatest goal in a European final to earn Los Blancos their 13th Champions League crown.
His two-goal cameo in that 3-1 win appeared on the surface to prove the most glaring of points. That Bale is a world-class footballer who deserves frequent game time at one of the world’s leading clubs.
Yeah. That didn’t happen. Granted, some fairly rubbish form on behalf of the whole team, with two managers failing to lift the mood in the process, failed to work wonders. Nevertheless, he was an ever-present under Julen Lopetegui, hitting the back of the net on more than a few occasions and winning the club’s Player of the Month in August 2018.
From there, downhill was, well, drastic. Yet, under Santiago Solari he still showed the world what he had to offer, with a hat-trick in the FIFA Club World Cup and scoring his 100th Real Madrid goal in a morale-boosting win over rivals Atletico. His goal celebration was provocative to say the least, yet it’s those moments that tend to endear someone to the fans.
However, he shouldn’t have had to endear himself. Four Champions League trophies, a Copa del Rey alongside a La Liga crown should have been enough. When Solari was relieved of his duties in March, the one man who was dragging his side through the mud was binned. Thrown out.
The ensuing undervaluing from the returning Zidane only began to heighten an already scathing agenda against the 30-year-old from the Spanish media, whose portrayal of the forward has been stringently negative for frighteningly too long. Lambasted for his unwillingness to embrace the culture, castigated for not learning Spanish and painted as the scapegoat when the team were in a rut, all seems wholly unfair.
His manager’s blatant efforts to be rid of him in the summer struck an unfortunate snag, however. Bale’s contract. Bale’s very, very large contract. Oh, and his wages. His very, very large wages.
With time and money most certainly on his side, Bale had no reason to jump ship; although, it would’ve been more ‘pushed overboard’ than ‘jump ship’.
No European club could afford his astronomical pay packet, and no major side on the continent were willing to fork out the fee Madrid were demanding. It got so desperate that a free transfer to China was touted, only for a last minute withdrawal from Madrid to materialise.
Bale’s position remained one of unwavering certainty. He wasn’t going to move.
And, you know what? Good on him.
The irony is the forward dug his heels in so hard he practically dug himself halfway to China. He wasn’t going to waste his talent in a vastly inferior league; whether his club liked it or not.
There is a case for argument that Bale demonstrated a lack of ambition by refusing to leave the club, but it would be wrong to not suggest he knew his opportunity would come at some point where he could re-stake his claim in the capital.
Injuries have opened the door for him at the beginning of this season, with an array of forward talent falling victim to issues ranging from the severe to the slight. It’s meant he’s been handed another crack of the whip. And he’s duly obliged.
Two goals and assist in La Liga so far have provided a timely reminder to the man in the dugout that talent was already in abundance at the Santiago Bernabeu prior to the near-£280m outlay this summer.
But we all knew this, didn’t we? Gareth Bale is an excellent footballer. It’s less realisation and more recollection.
While his ability and talent are no stranger to he vast majority of the football world, it has never quite resonated with the Madrid faithful or Zidane in the same way it most justifiably should. With 104 goals in 234 matches, it’s hard to believe anyone would think otherwise.
Bale’s importance to Madrid is most definitely understated, if not glaringly obvious after one glance at the trophy cabinet, with one hoping his stubbornness can pay dividends as he surpasses the 30-year-old mark.
The right decision? Unreservedly. The right treatment? Unequivocally no.
Now is just time to see whether his dogged attitude will translate to extended minutes on the pitch; or whether Zidane will place him on the short lead once again.