Gareth Bale has been nothing short of sensational in a Wales shirt and his brilliance was on display once as he took his country one game away from qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 1958. The forward rose to the occasion to score twice in the playoff semi-final against Austria to send Wales into a showdown with Ukraine or Scotland for the place in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Bale has continually excelled at an international level, despite often coming in cold after riding the bench with Real Madrid.
Bale has been a spectator for the majority of the La Liga campaign as Los Blancos claimed the crown. Additionally, even though Madrid were considered behind Manchester City (currently priced at 5/4) and Liverpool (currently priced at 5/6) in the Champions League betting odds at the start of the term, with seemingly a lack of top-tier talent, Bale was still not utilised by Carlo Ancelotti. Their deep surge in the competition may have vindicated Ancelotti, although the presence of Bale may have eased the pressure on Karim Benzema, who has been relied upon to produce heroics round-by-round.
Bale has proved that when fired up and on top form, he is still one of the premier talents in the game. However, no manager at Madrid has been willing to take on the challenge to get him firing on all cylinders in quite the same manner as he has done for the Dragons.
Bale has become an easy target for the Spanish press due to his high wages and lack of game-time on the field. These issues have further soured the relationship between Bale and the fans along with the club as a whole. However, due to his contract, the 32-year-old has not been able to secure a permanent move elsewhere and is locked in a cycle of misery.
On the other hand, Bale has provided massive moments for Los Blancos in the most successful period in European football since the 1950s. It was Bale that came to the fore to take the game away from Atletico Madrid in the 2014 Champions League final, with a well-placed header toward the back of the post following Angel Di Maria’s driving run. In the 2018 Champions League final, the game hung in the balance against Liverpool after Sadio Mane equalised for the Reds to cancel out Benzema’s opener.
Cue Bale, who produced one of the greatest finishes in the history of the final with a brilliant bicycle kick to put Madrid ahead, before then sealing the contest with an effort from a distance that Loris Karius fumbled into the net.
Not many players in the history of the Champions League could score two goals in the final to steer their team to the crown, but Bale’s match-winning heroics have perhaps been overlooked. A lot of his statistics are superior to Los Blancos’ greats, but for one reason or another, he is not appreciated by Madrid fans in the same way that he is adored by supporters from Wales.
Expectations have played a huge role in how he has been perceived. Whereas for Wales he has taken on the baton to lead an unheralded nation to great things on the European and world stage, at Madrid he was always battling to live up to his price tag and wages amid the greats that have played in the famous white shirt over the decades. It is a shame that a player of his calibre has gone unappreciated at the Bernabeu, but his exploits for Wales will live long in the memories of fans from this era.