Gareth Bale has started the season brilliantly, beginning this new La Liga campaign as he finished the last: with all guns blazing. However, despite his powerful performance against Real Sociedad (where he scored the quickest of the 60 goals that he’s now bagged for Real Madrid) there are a few big challenges that the Welshman has in front of him in 2016-17.
1. To reach the Balon d’Or podium
On an individual scale, this is the big one. Bale’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, has said it many times since his time at Tottenham and repeated it in a recent interview with AS: “Bale will win the Balon d’Or. I said it to Florentino Perez and José Ángel and they laughed. They’re not laughing so much now.” Bale believes this could be his year to finally stand alongside Cristiano and Messi after the great level he showed in Spain last season (19 goals in 31 games), as well as helping lift an otherwise modest Wales team to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 . His great rival for a place on the podium could be Neymar, who came third last time out and is hero of Brazil once again after playing an instrumental role in his country’s gold medal win at the Rio Olympics.
2. Assume a role as team leader
There’s no doubt about it between Real Madrid fans: the main leader of Los Blancos is Cristiano Ronaldo. But in the Portuguese superstar’s absence, Bale (as he did on Sunday) should assume greater responsibility, especially with the 31-year old Ronaldo likely be rested more frequently this season in order to conserve his strength and avoid injury as much as possible. Madrid will neither want to rush Cristiano back from his current knee injury (“He won’t return until he’s 100%”, Zidane has said), so Bale’s augmented role as a leader this year has begun already. He’s done it before of course, most notably in the 2014 Copa del Rey final against Barça when he made THAT incredible run to score the winner and hand Real the trophy, or towards the end of last season when Ronaldo had a spell on the sidelines. But now he’ll be expected to do it more often, as he does with Wales.
3. Score more goals
Bale’s best goalscoring return was during his first season, netting 22 times in 2013-14. He got 17 in his second season and 19 the last time out. In his three years at the Bernabéu, he’s been third top scorer out of the BBC, something that Bale is convinced he can change. And with his adaption period in a new club and a new country now complete, the Welshman will want to change it as soon as possible. He’s already got a head start with his double in Anoeta.
4. Put a stop to the injuries
Bale’s biggest burden is his injuries; his calves being the most fragile area of his body (he’s injured them six times since he signed). But that hasn’t been the only area prone to problems. Last season, Bale alternated great performances with frustrating physical setbacks, being unable to play in any more than six consecutive games. The forward has tried all types of treatments to reduce injury without much success. He even resorted to cutting holes in his socks in an attempt to relieve pressure on his calves! Turning these setbacks around has to be one of Bale’s biggest personal challenges, if not the biggest, and Pintus, Real Madrid’s new physical trainer, is determined to help him overcome it.
5. Win the league
This is not only Bale’s aim, but one that Zidane has given the whole squad. La Liga is the only big title that the Welshman has left to win in Spain, aside from the Spanish Super Cup. Bale’s well aware of that fact, and that the club hasn’t lifted the league trophy since 2011-12.