Scoring in the Champions League final against your city neighbours should pretty much secure your status as a club legend for the foreseeable future. However, things have not quite worked out as well for Gareth Bale during his second season with Real Madrid, los Blancos of course being far from a normal club.
Playing, and more pertinently succeeding, in Real’s infamous white shirt has proved a tough task for many players throughout the club’s history. Following his move from Tottenham in the summer of 2013 expectation was high, especially after signing for a world record fee.
He enjoyed considerable success in his first season and winning the Champions League along with the Copa del Rey, the future looked bright for the Welsh winger. However, following a period of poor form at the start of 2015 it seems the Spanish press have turned on their former hero.
He has been accused of not working hard enough for the team and at various points of being selfish in front of goal. After a long goal drought, he seemed to be coming back into form just before el Clasico. However, after another lacklustre performance ensued the knives were once again out for Bale and despite assurances from President Florentino Perez his long term future at the club appears in doubt.
Los Blancos are not your typical football club; they are an institution and with 10 European Cup wins are Europe’s biggest and most successful club. The club currently boast a playing squad featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco, Karim Benzema, Sergio Ramos and many more wonderful talents. None though are impervious to the criticism if the crowd feels that they have not worked enough for the team then they will share their frustrations with the specific player. Even Ronaldo, who it has to be remembered, has scored 47 goals for the club this season, gets jeered on occasions.
Bale is at his best when his athletic physique and explosive speed can be used to its fullest. If offered space or time, he can be deadly from range and shoots tremendous accuracy. This season though, he has been unable to replicate the form he showed during his first year at Madrid and as such his confidence has dipped.
He is not one of the best technically within the squad and during tough spells in games, he can often drift by without getting involved. His second half performance against Barcelona typified this and he was a bystander for large parts.
An integral part of the modern game is the ability to regain possession in the opponents half and use the breakdown in play to seize the initiative. It only takes one player to be out of position or lethargic and a team’s whole defensive unit can fall apart.
Of course this season Real have lost the services of Angel di Maria and Xabi Alonso who were crucial to Bale’s integration last season. The work that di Maria did for the team often went unnoticed and the ground he covered in attack and defence made up for several of the Madrid players who slackened off at points. With Alonso’s range and speed of thought to notice a pass, a significant amount of balls that Bale used to get has diminished too. With sides focusing their efforts on Ronaldo, it often freed up space for Bale and Benzema to exploit.
As the summer draws closer, rumours of Bale or Ronaldo’s departures will continue to gather momentum. If he wants to remain in Madrid and perhaps even take over from Ronaldo, he needs to have a good and successful end to the season. He must work harder without the ball and demonstrate to both team mates and fans that he is prepared to do the hard work as well as chase the reward. It would not require much change of mindset and should not hinder what he offers in attack.
Bale demonstrated during his final year at Spurs and during his first year at Real Madrid that he has the ability to play at the highest level. What separates the best from the pretenders though is that the best come back year after year and produce at their optimum when it counts.
Nobody remembers the early defeats when the trophy is lifted and Bale should remember that.
Written by Andy Hunter
Follow Andy on Twitter @hunter67980
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