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Bale showed Real fight to take game by scruff of neck at Rayo


I'll admit I'd never been truly taken with Gareth Bale. Don't get me wrong: I'd thought he was a terrific player ever since I first saw him at Spurs, still as a left-back. But Real's move for him struck me as a bit of an unnecessary, expensive extravagance. He came at the cost of offloading Mesut Özil and Ángel di María, who were working out well, in consecutive summers, and didn't easily find his niche in the team, either, since the position best suited to him is filled by Cristiano Ronaldo. Nor did he make a huge effort in that regard. He didn't throw himself into learning the lingo or integrating with his team-mates; even less so into the side's collective play. Pacey runs here and there, and now and again thunderbolts with his left.

His value to the team seemed to be limited to goals; what's more, he appeared content with that. Quite a few goals, and in general lovely ones at that, yes; but not much more than that. He knew he had the president's protection, which made him untouchable. Carlo Ancelotti helped to expedite his own P45 when it occurred to him to raise the possibility of flogging him back to the Premier League in exchange for the return of Di María and a big pile of cash, but Florentino Pérez wouldn't hear of it. On the contrary: he showed Ancelotti the door and in his stead brought in the servile Rafa Benítez, who pandered to Bale as much as he could, visiting him in Wales and granting him his wish of playing at number 10.

But now things look really rather different. Benítez is gone and Bale, perhaps feeling more vulnerable, suddenly, finally, delivered a total and utter never-say-die performance. At Vallecas, with Madrid missing more than one natural leader and Bale left as the only remaining member of the BBC, he was immense as he took the game by the scruff of the neck and turned it on its head. This year, he has tacked great aerial prowess on to his blistering pace and wonderful left foot, and at Rayo he added further strings to his bow: the responsibility of a leader, the ambition of the top stars. Putting all that together - and aided by Lucas Vázquez, who proved his chief partner in crime - he got Real out of jail on Saturday.