As the Jose Mourinho era drew to a close in the worst form possible, Real Madrid had already gone more than 10 years without a Champions League title and a sense of urgency was beginning to set in. Winning the tenth European Cup was the leitmotiv each season. And although they had managed to reach three consecutive semifinals, it had started to seem like an unattainable goal.
In the summer of 2013, Madrid lost to Barcelona in the battle to sign Neymar and, with an eye to the future, were already planning for the post-Cristiano era. Gareth Bale joined that September, but it is not until now, with four Champions League titles won in the last four years, that the Welshman will be expected to take charge of a team that face their first campaign without the Portuguese talisman.
Time to step up
While his first season at the Bernabéu was noteworthy, after that his performance varied and most noteworthy have been his absences, whether due to injury or selection choices. He was seen as a valuable weapon, but a weapon that Madrid never knew if they could use. His fragility was untenable, even for a loyal fan of the bbC (Bale-Benzema-Cristiano) trio like Zidane, who gave Isco the nod ahead of Bale to start the Champions League final against Liverpool in May.
Bale came on and scored two goals (he had been averaging a goal or assist per game since match day 25), but his frustration at not starting came out in the post-match interview, with his words suggesting he was ready to leave. Today, however, after Ronaldo’s exit, Bale’s wonder goal against Juventus, and his man of the match performance against Roma, few remember those words, perhaps even less so Bale himself. A new era has begun, and all eyes will be on the new leader at the Bernabéu Trophy match tonight against AC Milan.
Without a marquee signing brought in this summer to take the spotlight from Ronaldo, Real Madrid now demand that Bale perform to the level expected of his 100-million-euro price tag. It's now up to him to step forward and be the successor he had originally promised to be.