It is almost a year to the day since Gareth Bale scored probably the greatest ever goal in a Champions League Final – a brilliant overhead kick in Kiev to beat Liverpool and once again deliver the trophy to Real Madrid.
Bale scored again that night and it was his two goals that made the difference in a 3-1 victory and meant that he – and Madrid – had won the European Cup for the fourth time in five years and further enhanced his status as the most successful British player ever to play for an overseas club.
Except Bale had come off the bench. Coach Zinedine Zidane preferred Isco for the final and afterwards Bale left the door open that he might be on his way out of Madrid. “I have to sit down in the summer and discuss it with my agent and take it from there,” he said.
The evening summed up Bale’s career at Madrid. Moments of brilliance gained from the periphery and a feeling that he has always been closer to the shadows than would be expected for a player who cost a world record fee of £85million when he signed from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013.
Instead Bale has become a scapegoat
In Kiev it felt like he was finally leaving. Either that or Cristiano Ronaldo – who made similar noises on the night, comments Bale was aware of before he spoke – would go and even then coach Zinedine Zidane was non-too-keen to keep Bale.
In the event it was Ronaldo and Zidane who went with Bale staying which meant that this was supposed to be his year; the year he finally succeeded Ronaldo’s as Madrid most important player. If only it were that simple.
Bale came on as a substitute, again, that night with his arrival greeted with furious whistles by the Madrid fans who are not adverse to focussing their frustration on a particular player as even Ronaldo found out on occasions.
That has intensified. During the season team-mate Marcelo admitted that he could not really converse with Bale, whose Spanish was not up to scratch. Another, Thibaut Courtois, said Bale did not join a team meal because it was too late for him and apparently called him “the golfer” because of his passion for the sport. And the fans continued to go for him.
It culminated at the weekend with Zidane’s latest comments, following the defeat against Real Betis in the final game of a dismal season when Bale stayed on the bench, which barely concealed the fact that the coach wants the player to go to help finance his planned summer re-build.
“No one can change what Bale has done for the team but as a coach I have to live in the present,” Zidane said. He did not say that present or future was without Bale but he did not need to say it. It is clear he wants him out. Just as he did last year. It is clear he thinks Bale is part of Madrid’s past.
Bale knows the situation. He is in no rush to leave – why would he be?
The problem is: what next? Madrid are probably deluded if they think that a Premier League club or Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich – a club he has shown interest in the past – will come in with an offer to not only take over Bale’s contract but pay a substantial fee.
It appears set to be the stand-off saga of the summer and could be a case of who blinks first.