Five years since Gareth Bale's debut: 19 injuries, 393 days out
In his sixth season at the Santiago Bernabéu, the Welshman is no longer in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo and will also hope to leave his injury woes behind him.
Friday, 14 September, 2018. It has been five years since Gareth Bale made his Real Madrid debut in Villarreal. A lustrum that has seen the player cross out 393 days on the calendar thanks to 19 injuries that have plagued his time in the Spanish capital.
Post-Cristiano Bale puts injury ghosts to rest
The club signed him in 2013 for 101 million euros with the plan that he would carry the flag as Cristiano Ronaldo reached his inevitable end. Now 29 years old, the Welshman begins his sixth season, the first without the Portuguese talisman, and the early games have suggested that there is much to be positive about. In this campaign he has already been involved in 94% of the available minutes, and in that time has three goals and two assists to his name. Could this be the real Bale that everyone was hoping for to take up his role as a Madridista leader.
'Maybe I'll stay, maybe I'll go.' 'I have to talk to my agent.' I need more playing time.' These were the messages coming out of Bale's mouth after the Champions League final in Kiev. However, this summer saw a 180-degree turn from him. Not only is his football showing a revitalised state of mind, but so too does his physique. It has now been 275 days that he has been without an injury, following his recovery from the last one on December 13 last year. That season he was crocked in the second match of the Champions League group stage in Dortmund. It took him 63 days before he could play again after that. He then went to Fuenlabrada in the Copa del Rey, and was hit by another injury. First it was the calf muscle. Then the adductor. A script was being written and his time at Madrid has been halved by these lay offs, the winger completing just 53% of the minutes available during his time.
He dazzled excited onlookers with his pace in El Madrigal five years ago, but never found himself completely at ease out on the right where Ancelotti had stationed him. With Benítez he was used as a playmaker, at the behest of his agent, but under Zidane he would return to the shadow spread by Cristiano. Now, without the iconic number seven and with a feeling of laying the injury ghosts to rest, the man from Cardiff could potentially vie for the Ballon d'Or award, adding individual glory to his impressive club honours.
Bale's crowning moment for Madrid
He was crowned the King of Kiev with his brace against Liverpool in the final after coming off the bench. Those goals were essential for 'la Decimotercera' (the thirteenth) and his first will go down in the history books along with that of Zidane in Glasgow.
Making it 2-1 for La Décima
His first goal in a Champions League final was in extra-time in Lisbon as Real Madrid won the elusive tenth trophy (he also scored a penalty in the final for Madrid's 11th in Milan). His header saddened Atlético hearts.
Golazo against Barça in the Mestalla
"To score against Barça in the final was incredible. That goal will always be there." This is how Bale himself described his unforgettable run and finish that brought him his first title, the Copa del Rey, as a Madridista.