Revealed: Gareth Bale’s final days at Real Madrid, truth about Zidane and Tottenham move
The smiles on the faces of the Tottenham fans gathered outside Hotspur Way said it all when Gareth Bale made his way back through the gates at Hotspur Way last month. Report by football.london:
Following plenty of speculation regarding a return to Tottenham over the past couple of years, the Welshman was finally home after seven years away.
His final season at White Hart Lane was something very special indeed and it came as no surprise when Real Madrid came calling with a world-record deal to entice him to the Santiago Bernabeu in September 2013.
The Welshman may not have been able to help Los Blancos lift the La Liga title in his first season in the Spanish capital as cross-city rivals Atletico caused a big shock, but he went down in Real Madrid folklore as Carlo Ancelotti’s men won the European cup for the tenth time just over a month after tasting success in the Copa del Rey final.
Firstly scoring the all-important winner against Barcelona with a stunning solo goal still talked about to this day as he used his blistering pace to get beyond Marc Bartra, he then netted the vital second goal in the Champions League finale against Atleti after Sergio Ramos had earlier sent the game to extra-time with a stoppage-time equaliser.
It was a stunning introduction to Spanish football for Bale but it was almost as if he peaked too early.
Speaking to football.london, Madrid-based journalist Euan McTear opened up on Bale’s time in Madrid and pinpointed where it all started to go wrong for the 31-year-old.
“I think there are many reasons if you had to explain what went wrong, but I think number one are the injuries,” he explained.
“You can debate over which transfer was more as it was similar with him and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the official numbers were that his transfer cost a little bit more.
“Cristiano Ronaldo was never injured, he was there every game, never suspended, always available and would score X amount of goals every month.
“Bale started to pick up these injuries and was missing and that’s what grew to the frustration. When you spend that much money on a player, the fans get restless when it’s a little injury here and a little one there.
“We’re seeing a very, very similar thing with the restlessness now with Eden Hazard and it looks like he could become the next sort of Bale.
“I think it was the injuries that started to frustrate people and people didn’t hold that against him as they knew he was genuinely injured, but it was frustrating to have a key player out.
“Then people started to look for other things they could target him with like the not speaking Spanish, the attitude towards the rest of team and players, like the attitude to the media and playing golf.
“I don’t think people would have looked at his language skills and hobbies if it wasn’t for the injuries. I think that was the thing that started to frustrate people as they were just annoyed that he wasn’t available.”
Amid his injury woes and his time on the golf course in the Spanish capital, another major talking part during his final few years at Real Madrid was his relationship with Zinedine Zidane.
Famously scoring a double in the 1998 World Cup final as France beat Brazil 3-0, Real made their move three years later to lure the classy midfielder from Juventus for a world-record fee during their Galacticos era as they spent heavily on the best players in world football.
Becoming an instant hero with one of the most famous goals of all time as he volleyed home a Champions League winner against Bayer Leverkusen in 2002, Zidane returned to his former home in January 2016 as he took on the managerial hotseat following Rafael Benitez’s exit.
Guiding his team to three successive Champions League titles between 2016 and 2018, with Bale netting an outrageous overhead kick in the latter against Liverpool, much was made of his relationship with the Welshman.
But what was it really like?
“I think it has been a little bit overblown his relationship with Zidane,” said Marca journalist McTear. “Either time one has talked about that relationship they’ve had good things to say.
“It has been Bale’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, who has been the one to criticise Zidane and a lot of the time I don’t think it’s necessarily repeating what he’s heard from Bale.
“I think he’s a kind of person who goes off on his own and gives his own verdict whether or not that’s shared by Bale.
“The differences are that they are very different kinds of people. Both superstars, both at Real Madrid, both have scored Champions League wonder goals and things like that. Similar in some senses but very different kinds of people off the pitch.
“Zidane loves football. You hear him talking about it and the other day he said he watched so many of the matches during the international break. Bale basically has admitted that he doesn’t really watch football apart from when he is playing it.
“Zidane loves football, loves Real Madrid, he’s not a one-club man of course, but Zidane’s only club since he joined them in 2001 has been Real Madrid.
“Bale didn’t quite feel that connection. Then there is the language thing as well as Zidane doesn’t really speak English and Bale doesn’t really speak Spanish. It’s hard to really kind of develop a relationship there. They can communicate in football terms. They obviously weren’t having long heartfelt conversations
“They were different kinds of people. I don’t think they were best friends but I don’t think it’s true that they were enemies either as that’s overblown and maybe unhelpfully so by Bale’s agent.”
Starting the 2019/20 season in the team, a host of different injuries saw him miss out a number of times and in the end he found himself as an unused substitute on the bench more often than not in the second part of the campaign.
Watching on from the sidelines as Los Blancos looked to pip Barcelona to the title, the player soon found himself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after putting his face mask over his eyes in one game, before making a binoculars gesture with a roll of medical tape in another match.
Clearly not flavour of the month with a number of fans having posed behind a Wales flag that read “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order” on international duty a few months earlier, his antics didn’t exactly go down well among many.
Then in August it seemed that a summer exit was a definite having asked Zinedine Zidane to be left out of the Real Madrid squad for their crucial Champions League tie against Man City, although it’s not exactly clear as to why he requested to be omitted from the travelling party.
Amid a lot of speculation regarding his future in the past and a potential return to Tottenham, it was evident that there was no way back for Bale at Real Madrid for the 2020/21 season and a move had to come to fruition.
Revealing in September while on international duty that the Spanish side blocked a potential move elsewhere for a project he was “excited for”, his wish finally came true a couple of weeks later as he signed on the dotted line at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on a season-long loan deal.
While his time at Real Madrid ultimately turned sour after making such a big impact in his first couple of seasons, the fans and media did look back on his time fondly.
“It was strange when he finally left,” revealed McTear. “He couldn’t have stayed as it was reaching breaking point.
“When he left there was a lot of nostalgia and ‘thanks for the memories’ because there have been some good ones, especially the Champions League and Copa del Rey in his first season and the Kiev final with the overhead kick.
“Even just getting to the Champions League finals when they did three in a row he was massive. He maybe didn’t turn up in the finals the way he would’ve wanted, and he didn’t even start the one in Cardiff, but he was a big part of how they got there beating teams likes Bayern Munich and Atleti.
“There were a lot of good memories and it was memories of the BBC [Benzema, Bale, Cristiano] era as well when they would put five, six, seven goals, and even eight one time, past teams in La Liga.
“Over time I think people will look back on Bale’s legacy a bit better, but his departure was still tied to the present day which was he’s earning a lot of money, he needs to go, he’s become a bit of a distraction for the squad.
“I think over time it will be more positive than negative.”
Since his return to the club last month Bale has played in two games for the Lilywhites.
Almost capping off his homecoming with a late goal against West Ham before the visitors went down the other end of the pitch a minute later and equalised, he got just over an hour under his belt on Thursday evening as Spurs defeated LASK 3-0 in the Europa League.
Such a dynamic and explosive player in the final few years of his first spell with the club as he burst past players with ease and netted some stunning goals, things are going to be rather different this time around as Spurs have rather a different player on their hands.
So what type of player does Jose Mourinho has at his disposal between now and May?
“I think he’s a very, very different player,” confessed McTear. “I remember the Bale Real Madrid signed was quick, dynamic, could play counter attacking football and that’s not him anymore.
“I don’t know if he’s lost the pace but I think the big thing really is that he’s had so many injuries that he’s almost scared now to really sprint.
“You see a lot of games towards the end of last season at the Bernabeu when the fans were still there, just watching Bale off the ball sometimes was interesting as he just wouldn’t run in the way that you had seen him do in previous years.
“There might be a slightly slack pass running out of play where three of four years ago he would have sprinted to keep it in play as he was one of the quickest players on the pitch, now he wouldn’t make that run. I don’t know if he can make those runs or it’s the fear of pulling something.
“That’s the thing about his injuries as it’s not just one injury where he has to be careful with one part of his body. With Bale he’s had hamstring problems, calf issues and everything, so you sort of see a little bit of fear in the way he runs.
“I think he’s a lot more tactically advanced and tactically astute than when he left as he’s played under some very good coaches at Real Madrid. I think he can have a little bit more pause in his game and pick things out.
“He’s still a talented player, he can still hit them, still pass it but the big difference is the sprint and running as he just looks a little bit nervous to pull up with something.”
Due to return to Madrid at the end of the season as he still has one year left to run on his contract with the Spanish giants, his future beyond next summer is extremely unclear at present as he clearly won’t be playing his football with Real.
However, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him return to the city to live later down the line once he calls time on his career.
Perhaps surprising to many that he remained at Real for so long after falling out of favour and seeing his minutes on the pitch drop, Bale and his family were extremely content in Madrid, and that was clear to see recently on YouTube as he starred in a short golf feature where he went around the exclusive Ciudad Grupo Santander golf course he’s a member at with the cameras.
Given his love of the city, McTear believes that the Welshman will be back in Madrid in the not too distant future.
“People are a little bit surprised that he was happy to sit earning his money and not really play, but every interview he’s spoken about Madrid he absolutely loves it,” explained the Spanish-based journalist.
“He just seemed to love the setup there and love the Madrid life. The way he talked, the way he went around the golf course, he seemed like he had his life set up there as his family were happy there and he was really settled in.
“We’ve had other British players who’ve come to Madrid and not really settled in. Michael Owen lived in a hotel the whole year and didn’t really like it. He’d be out buying the British papers as he was homesick.
“When the Beckhams were here Victoria Beckham claimed it smelt like garlic all the time.
“Bale actually did like Madrid the city. I think he was happy to stay there and I think he needed a really good sporting project if he was ever to go back to England because otherwise he didn’t want to give up the Madrid life.
“I feel like when he retires he will keep a property in Madrid and spend a lot of time in the city because I think he did really fall in love with that element of Spain and the quiet northern suburb of Madrid where he stayed, where he had his golf course, he had good weather and he was quite content.”
Madrid may be his future once he hangs up his boots but it’s about the here and now at Tottenham.
Maybe not the same player who departed all the way back in 2013, Bale can still have a huge impact on the squad as Mourinho looks to guide his team to the silverware they so desperately crave.
It has the potential to be such an exciting year at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Spurs fans are extremely grateful that their hero is finally home and has such big part to play in it.