Gareth Bale's complicated relationship with Real Madrid
Gareth Bale’s career at Real Madrid is over. And for Zinedine Zidane it has been over for a while. He didn’t play a single minute in the last three games of the season and didn’t join his teammates on the bench against Bayern Munich. Zidane’s “the sooner the better” comments about Bale’s departure were the lowering of the coffin after the final nails had already been hammered home. "It's quite obvious what I've done," Zidane said after leaving Bale out of those last encounters in the league as their relationship turned from frosty to frozen over.
The reasons are manifold. From the outside it seems bizarre that a club's record signing would be pushed out in such a brusk and disrespectful manner, which it is, but the closer you look at it, the more complicated the situation between Bale and Real Madrid is and always has been.
Jonathan Barnett, Bale's agent, has come out swinging at every turn. He has been responding to Zidane's swipes at his client rather than initiating the back-and-forth. "There's more chance of me winning at Royal Ascot than Bale leaving Madrid," he said with top hat and tuxedo on at the famed racecourse when the topic was broached. Barnett's stance has always been that if Madrid want to move him then the onus is on them to make it happen. He says his client loves Madrid, has a contract at Madrid and is staying at Madrid. The ball has been sent over the net and into Madrid’s court. So far their only response has been: ‘Yeah but we don’t want him anymore and aren’t willing to let him leave for nothing.’
He has also branded Zidane's comments and general lack of respect for Bale as 'disgraceful'. After 231 games, 102 goals and 65 assists, they are. After four Champions Leagues, a LaLiga title, a Copa del Rey, a Spanish Super Cup, three European Super Cups and four Club World Cups, you'd think they would be planning to retire his number rather than retiring the player by offloading him to China in search of the compensation they need to fund another surge into the transfer market.
The four actors and the ones shaping how this whole situation is playing out and is being perceived are Bale, Zidane, Real Madrid as a club and the fans. With the first three acting in their best interests, the fans, a strange and tribal bunch, have their own bone to pick with the Welshman.
Bale the introvert doesn't see the point in PR
There is a common misconception that introverts close themselves off because they are shy. But that isn't always the case. Bale doesn’t engage because he doesn’t hear the cheers or the boos and never did. He doesn’t need external validation; from the samurai hairstyle to not going to dinner with his teammates, he makes decisions based on how he feels and not how he will look.
The optics aren’t great and this is why the fans feel aggrieved. They feel cheated out of the hero they feel like they deserve. He’s played a hero’s role plenty of times for Real Madrid on the field but that connection has never been there off the field. And that's when the injury absences sting a little more. They seem to last a little longer. 'Are you even trying to come back,' fans wondered with these physical setbacks sometimes framed as a moral flaw in his character. But he did try and he forced himself back before reinjuring his constantly problematic soleus muscle and ankles. He stretched it obsessively during games and he constantly fretted over missing more time.
While Toni Kroos answers questions in the local lingo, and you see Juventus fans fawning over Aaron Ramsey's admirable efforts to speak Italian in his first press conference, Bale has only ever given one relatively long interview in Spanish. He does speak it according to plenty of reports but he doesn’t feel the need to go and prove it. These simple things might have helped with his overall image but he never did them.
Again, this conflict arises between what fans expect their player to be like and what Bale sees as his role. He’s a footballer, not a publicity man. Many players feel the same way but are comfortable when it comes to talking the talk. That helps when injuries do arise and you need a little backing from the fans.
Don’t let the vibe on Twitter paint your entire picture either. There is some upset as to how pointed Barnett's responses have been and with no singular person to point the finger at at Real Madrid (given Florentino Pérez’s 'Teflon Don' status) the anger has been sent Bale’s way. Once this saga ends, which Zidane says will be soon, there will come a clearer picture of what Bale meant to the club. Real Madrid fans are a hard fanbase to please. And as a club, from a player's perspective, they can be a hard club to love, such is the turnover and ever-changing dynamic on and off the field.
It's a club where unconditional love is hard to come by. You have to strike a perfect balance between being both world class yet a humble superstar to earn it. Or at least commit to being one of them, which is what Cristiano Ronaldo did as the goal-glutton. And which is what Raúl did as the hometown hero. Bale, because of his injuries, couldn't do the former, and doesn't have the connections, the urge or see the need to be the latter.
And that leaves him where he stands today at Real Madrid: no man's land.
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