“It’s his moment and he has to take advantage of it."
Of all the people Gareth Bale could have gone to for advice, Rivaldo might have been the last person on the list. The former Barcelona star, however, encapsulated the Welshman’s mission for the season ahead.
After five years in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo, it is time for him to emerge as the most important player at Real Madrid.
Since arriving from Tottenham in 2013, Bale has formed part of the notorious ‘BBC’. Yet he has always felt like a junior partner alongside Karim Benzema and CR7. The former has proven more amenable to a supporting role, stunting his own game to help the Portuguese flourish.
Bale’s fealty, however, has always felt less assured. Rumours about his incompatibility with Ronaldo have bubbled incessantly beneath the glossy white surface.
Despite scoring an audacious goal in the Champions League final, last season felt like a nadir for Bale. His campaign was marred by injury, as he made just 20 starts in the league (one ahead of Marco Asensio).
Sixteen goals suggests that he remains a potent attacking force, but an awful Autumn was written off by a litany of muscular problems. Right when Real were stuttering domestically, he was nowhere to be seen, with Ronaldo assuming centre stage once more as the side fought its way back up the table.
Injury has been a constant companion during Bale’s sojourn in Madrid. Every one of his five campaigns have been interrupted by physical complaints.
It means that any momentum his performances might accrue simply bleeds away. Every time he’s applauded onto the field after an ankle complaint or a calf strain, he playing to justify his place in the starting eleven.
This, more than any other season, is the one in which Bale is prepared to finally stake his claim as Real’s star man.
He has had a summer full of rest, with no bothersome international commitments. His greatest obstacle in the team has been removed, and he’s playing for a manager about whom a clatter professional doubts still linger.
Julen Lopetegui needs one of his stars to become the poster boy and fulcrum of this new-look team, Bale, finally shorn of Ronaldo’s spectre, needs to be that man if he is to wrest control of his Real Madrid legacy.
Some Serious Encouragement
“Bale is a player we love, he has been here a long time and has been training hard,” enthused Lopetegui before his side’s trip to Estonia to face Atletico in the UEFA Super Cup.
The ensuing 4-2 defeat might have been disastrous, but Bale’s performance in Tallinn will have given his manager some serious encouragement.
It was the Welshman’s powerful burst and scintillating cross that set up Benzema for the opening goal, the highlight of promising interlinking between the two.
Bale’s fearsome pace strength hasn’t always had the opportunity to devastate in Spain – his burning run and finish against Barcelona in the 2014 final of the Copa Del Rey is one of few examples.
Lopetegui may yet mould his side around the Welshman in order to extract his most bellicose qualities. After five underwhelming years at the biggest club in the world, it’s time for Bale to finally arrive.