When Gareth Bale made the switch from North London to Madrid for a world record fee it put the world on notice. Real Madrid might have missed out on their initial target Neymar but in Bale they had someone who potentially could replicate what Cristiano Ronaldo brings to the table. Built like an ox, a great crosser and explosive power at his feet. The heir apparent.
His arrival didn’t go down well with everyone, least so Cristiano. We’re talking about a player who has built his reputation on hard work and everyone telling him he’s the best. A newcomer, a mini-Ronaldo, was like they were easing the responsibility placed on the Portuguese man’s shoulders. Some would see that as a positive but not Cristiano. He loves to feel the team depends on him. Help is an insult.
Proof of that came when Real Madrid tried to cover up the official transfer fee. Inserted into the deal was an agreement to keep the price out of the public domain. This was done to avoid any potential problems between Cristiano and Florentino Perez. When ‘Football Leaks’ released Bale’s contract it confirmed he was the world’s most expensive player. Trouble in paradise.
The battle to protect Cristiano’s ego
Away from bruised egos the team finally secured La Décima with Bale on board. A season disrupted by injuries meant the Welshman finished the campaign in fine form and made a huge contribution in both of Madrid’s finals. This was in stark contrast to Cristiano who faded at the business end of the season. However without him there would be no finals to speak of.
The celebration as he tucked home a 120th minute penalty to make it 4-1 against Atlético Madrid was exaggerated for a reason. Cristiano didn’t like the adulation Bale was receiving, especially when it made people forget about him. A posturing of sorts, like the alpha male being challenged by a young pretender. Bale might have made the difference but there was only one king of the hill: the shirtless warrior.
Yet one thing Cristiano loves about Bale is that is forces him to push himself harder than ever. His natural work ethic and desire to be the best remains but he feeds off competition. Without Lionel Messi I don’t think Cristiano would have reached the heights he has. The same can be said of the Argentine. But while the battle with Messi is maybe over, the one with Bale isn’t.
This is arguably the most important season in Gareth Bale’s stay in Madrid. The pressure is well and truly on and the fans are beginning to lose faith in him. That isn’t to say this is the end of the line, fans are fickle after all, but he needs to showcase his ability again. Real supporters want Isco in the starting line-up and see the ‘BBC’ as blocking his path. They also know there’s a very real chance they could lose the Spaniard this summer. Bale has to remind them why he’s more important.
Cristiano improves when Bale is playing well
Zinedine Zidane continues to back his attacking trident and insists that when available they all start. This is crucial for Bale’s standing at the club but he needs to reward that faith. Ever since he returned from injury he’s looked sluggish, almost lazy. No goal threat, poor decision making and even less defensive work. Bale is capable of so much more than we’ve seen in recent weeks.
And in a roundabout way Cristiano needs Bale to get back to his best too. The Portuguese hitman is struggling for form again and he needs someone to push him. I’m not saying Cristiano isn’t trying but he clearly performs better when he feels threatened. Similar to a couple of seasons ago, Bale’s form distracts people from questioning Cristiano. Although Ronaldo naturally has a lot more leeway for what he’s achieved at the club.
It’s worth noting that Real Madrid’s unbeaten run came to an end when Bale was out injured. All three losses this season came when Bale either wasn’t available or didn’t start. In fact, the last time Real lost in the league with Bale in the starting line-up was all the way back in December 2015. You can’t deny his importance but that’s also why he has to stay fit.
Bale’s not fit enough to replace Cristiano
Injuries are a problem and they have been ever since he arrived in Spain. You can’t replace someone like Cristiano if you miss 10-15 games a season. Aside from his goals, Cristiano is dependable due to his extreme fitness levels. Sometimes he might not perform to his own lofty standards but more often than not, he’s available. Bale, right now, isn’t someone you can build a side around.
This summer promises to be an eventful one for Real Madrid. The club has actively sounded out targets, all attacking ones, and that must be a concern for Bale. No one can doubt his ability but they can question whether he’s the rightful heir to Cristiano’s throne. We’ve seen moments of brilliance which made us believe it was possible only for him to miss game time. He can’t afford to do that any more.
No major trophy, no BBC next year?
The priority for Madrid this season is LaLiga but that doesn’t mean the Champions League isn’t important. Their history in the competition alone makes that impossible. However in the worse case scenario and the club ends the season trophyless, it might begin next season Baleless.
Cristiano doesn’t want that either. Not because he has some strong, brother like bond with Bale but because they work well together. A new person coming in with all the bells and whistles that accompanies it will present another challenge. He believes that with Bale, both in good form, they bring out the best in each other. He’s also aware that Bale won’t break his records or achieve close to the status he has at the club. That comforts him.
However if Real Madrid are to stand any chance in Europe – or LaLiga – they need Bale and Cristiano to find their best form again. Bayern Munich, much like Juventus last night, will pounce on any weakness or mistake. To go through Madrid will rely on that swift, lethal counterattacking form which helped them go unbeaten for 40 matches. Bale and Cristiano are fundamental to Real’s success.
It’s time for the high profile members of the BBC to repay the faith shown in them by Zidane or face the prospect of being disbanded in the summer.