Roaring past Marc Bartra on the left flank at the Mestalla, sailing on an enormous arc through the sidelines before storming home to win the Copa del Rey. This is the sort of individual brilliance which Gareth Bale brings to a team on his best days.
Granted, he may have lost a few seconds of sprint speed since that career-defining goal at the end of the 2013-14 campaign, but most would agree he’s a more complete player than he was in his first season with Real Madrid, where once a wolfish attacking instinct and explosive pace were his distinguishing features. He’s lost the juvenile streak which so frustrated fans when he first arrived at the Bernabeu and refined it into a predator’s intelligence.
Having arrived in Spain as the most coveted attacker in Europe and fine-tuned his game since – also winning La Liga, the domestic cups and three Champions League titles in the meantime, but no big deal – it’s little wonder that other clubs prowl like hyenas whenever they sense an opportunity to sign him.
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While Bale’s performances would be enough to see him lionised at other clubs, it’s hard to exaggerate the weight of expectation at Madrid and the intensity of external criticism. Though the booing and whistling he experienced occasionally during his first few seasons at the Bernabeu has abated, Bale still faces incessant scrutiny at Real and rumours that the club are prepared to offload him. The latest reports suggest he could be sold to Manchester United for somewhere in the region of £85million.
While the ludicrous inflation in the transfer market over the last few years has made £85million seem almost normal, it’s still a hefty investment for United and would no doubt eat through much of their summer transfer budget. There is still one question which hangs heavy over Bale, even for those who wouldn’t dare contest his talent: can he get clear of his incessant injuries?
Bale’s injury nightmare
More than the odd missed chance or the customary gripes of Madridistas, Bale’s recent injury record could be seen as a legitimate reason for Real to want to part ways with the Welshman. Having made 48 appearances in all competitions for Los Blancos in 2014-15, his availability has gradually declined over the last few seasons: 31 appearances in 2015-16 dwindled to 27 outings last term as he suffered from a succession of knocks and scrapes. He is currently out with a thigh strain incurred while recovering from a persistent calf problem, and reports suggest he could be on the sidelines from now until the end of the year – this having missed 40 of the last 60 games for Real. His list of war wounds from the past few seasons includes dislocated ankle tendons, issues with his hip, back problems and nagging hamstring complaints.
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Since joining in 2013, Gareth Bale has cost Real Madrid over €1m per game pic.twitter.com/UuzFz3GPRK
— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 11, 2017
Though £85million is around the same price that Real Madrid paid for him four years ago, it would still be a mere £4million off Manchester United’s record signing of Paul Pogba in 2016. For such a significant sum of money, Bale represents an enormous risk despite his sinewy attacking skills. No matter Bale’s prodigious talent, United would struggle to justify blowing an entire summer’s budget on a smattering of appearances. Then again, moments like that at the Mestalla are priceless – metaphorically if not financially.