footballcritic: After moving to Spurs as a 17-year-old, he struggled to establish himself in the Premier League, and in 2009 was offered to West Ham for just £3 million.
They declined. He knuckled down that season and scored 11 goals, as compared to the six he had in his previous two years. It was all upwards after that, and in subsequent years he bloomed into one of the most powerful players to have graced the English top flight.
When he made the big-money move to Real Madrid in 2013, there were concerns about whether he was tough enough to handle the pressure at Santiago Bernabeu and play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, but achieved 22 goals and 19 assists in his first season, including an outrageous winner in the Copa Del Rey final against Barcelona and the crucial second goal in the Champions League final.
His 2015/16 campaign was blighted by persistent injuries, and there were persistent rumours of him being offloaded in the summer. Fighting for his Madrid career, the Welshman turned on the heat in the title run-in, and scored four goals in the last six games to secure Real Madrid’s first La Liga title since 2011.
And of course, there’s the 2018 Champions League final – in a season spent on the fringes of the first team, he played with a vengeance against Liverpool and left his stamp on the biggest of stages. It was the perfect response to his critics and to Zinedine Zidane.
It was also the perfect way to cap off his time in Madrid. But, despite his willingness to leave, a move never materialised that summer.
Stuck in a situation he desperately wanted out of, the Welshman sucked it up and despite all the hostility he received from the fans, he finished with a respectable 14 goals from 29 starts.
But when his proposed move to China was blocked in 2019, something changed inside him. That fire to prove the doubters wrong was extinguished. In his first season at Madrid, he had a xG of 14.10 and xA of 8.75. In 19/20, his xG was 4.05 and xA was at 1.75. The decline has been sharp.
Recency bias is widespread in football. A player’s performances in the latter stages of his career has a massive influence on the player’s legacy and how he’s remembered. In the case of someone like Andrea Pirlo, the twilight of his career gave him the type of adulation he never quite received before. But, a player like Iker Casillas doesn’t get his due in the pantheon of football legends because of the acrimonious end to his time at Madrid. If things continue the same way for Bale, the zombie-like performances, the indifference and the yawns on the bench in the past year is how he’ll be remembered.
It doesn’t take a detective to know his heart isn’t in it anymore, but it’d be incorrect to say he’s fallen out of love with football. Just take a look at his performances for Wales; he’s led from the front as captain and was the lynchpin as they qualified for the Euros. In a key game against Croatia, the Welshman got the equaliser and put in a man-of-the-match performance in a game they couldn’t afford to lose.
With the Euros postponed until next summer, Bale knew that another year spent on the bench in Madrid won’t do his country any favours. To get more game time, the forward has had to be open to a salary cut and a willingness to be tactically flexible. With a year left on his contract, the best solution is to get out and rebuild the remainder of his career.
The obvious return is Spurs. Jose Mourinho is a fan, and Bale fits the profile for a team built to play on the counter. He’ll be able to take the goalscoring burden from Harry Kane and Heung-min Son, and would provide Lucas Moura healthy competition. Bale’s winning mentality is exactly what a team like Spurs need, and his arrival would be a much-needed morale boost for a fanbase that’s still reeling from the heartbreak of the Champions League final last year.
The weak performance against Everton last weekend shows an injection of life is needed; Bale’s agent has reiterated how close Tottenham is to his heart and it’s the logical move for a player with plenty still to give.
Bale turned 31 last month and still has a couple of good years left in him. A move away from Madrid is imperative for him, for Wales and for his legacy.
Source: Published by footballcritic