The second most expensive player in the history of football is fully fit for this weekend’s Champions League final. Whether Gareth Bale starts or not, however, is unknown.
On 24th May 2014, Gareth Bale ended his first season with Real Madrid by scoring the goal to finally deliver La Decima to the desperate Los Blancos. Uncomfortable beginnings in Spain were forgotten, he was an icon in the Spanish capital. Similar magical moments have followed for Bale (a certain Copa Del Rey final goal comes to mind) but his time at the world’s biggest football club has been blighted by injury frustration.
As Real Madrid strode to the title, Cristiano Ronaldo’s all-round impact reduced and Karim Benzema’s form fluctuated, Bale started just 24 matches in the league and Champions League. Niggling injuries saw Zinedine Zidane tinker with his team’s setup and allow more minutes for Marco Asensio, Lucas Vasquez and Isco. The natural clambering at the Santiago Bernabeu is for a homemade Spanish star, resulting each of the three receiving more adoration than Bale.
Whether a diamond 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1, Real Madrid have looked a more fluent, balanced team without Bale. Isco has thrived in a freer role in midfield, while the presence of Casemiro is a must for this Saturday’s final. Bale, as a result of Zidane’s experiments that were enabled by his absence, should not be in the starting line-up. There are few better options to have from the bench, mind.
Madrid may be disinterested in selling a player of Bale’s talent. Even if out of Zidane’s first choice team, Europe’s most successful club have shown before they have no issue with immensely expensive signings becoming no more than squad players. Bale is far from that concern just yet, but even his status as heir to Ronaldo’s throne is in doubt.
Reports have surfaced that the club are cautious of Bale’s ability to maintain fitness and wish to sell while his value remains high.
While these may be nothing more than end of season website-filling rumours, it’s a move that would make sense for all parties. Bale is 27, his career should be at its peak. Instead, he is left uncertain of his role and importance at the Bernabeu.
Since arriving in 2013, Bale has only made more than 30 La Liga appearances once. This, however, is the first time his importance to his manager has been questioned. Zidane has found a balance to his team without Bale, as the Welshman learns, as many players have, that clubs will quickly move on if you cannot be reliable physically.
Premier League Beckons
Should a move materialise for Bale, it would naturally be a return to the Premier League. Juventus, Paris Saint Germain and Bayern Munich are the only other clubs who could considering stumping up such a large fee, but the thirst for the sport’s biggest names in England would drive the bidding into the stratosphere.
Manchester United have repeatedly been rumoured to be pestering Real Madrid for Bale. The Red Devils were interested in 2013 when the Welshman left Tottenham for a move to southern Europe, too. Now Jose Mourinho and Ed Woodward are set to embark on an arms race with Pep Guardiola and have calmed their interest in Antoine Griezmann. The links to Old Trafford will be reignited, and Bale would be the perfect statement signing from a club desperate to prove they can keep pace with their local rivals.
Guardiola and Manchester City clearly have other targets, but Chelsea could be tempted. The Blues have shown reluctance to spend the same enormous fees as City and United in recent years, but will be well aware of their post-title 2015 mistakes. Should Eden Hazard or Diego Costa have their heads turned this summer, Bale would be an impeccable addition. His direct dribbling and frightening pace would suit Chelsea’s counter-style better than anyone.
Riches and Revolution
It is not just the fact the Premier League has the grotesque financial firepower to bring Bale back to England, but that the television financed windfalls and managerial appointments have put the league on the cusp of revolution. Five teams enter the Champions League next season and each of their managers (along with Arsene Wenger) are laden with vast expectation.
Having dominated the Champions League in the latter years of the last decade, the Premier League has only made fleeting semi-final appearances since 2011. That is set to change as teams compile deep, gifted squads and are led by many of the world’s best in the dugouts.
Bale – should be given the opportunity to leave the Bernabeu – can be the face of a resurgent Premier League. He has carried his nation deep into the European Championships, he has written his name in Real Madrid’s history, now it’s time to pick up where he left off in England. In 2013 he was PFA Player of the Year and he can return to and exceed those standards.
A fully fit Bale can yet dominate English and European football. Few players force their way out of Real Madrid, but it’s time for Bale to lead a revolution in the Premier League and become one of the first truly top level players to join the league this decade.