A blog on Gareth Bale and his changing status at both Real Madrid and Wales.
It was a petulant throw of the arms from Cristiano Ronaldo that recently prompted La Liga pundit Graham Hunter to start a debate over Gareth Bale and his status in the Real Madrid side. Upon his arrival at the Bernabeu in the summer of 2013, Bale accepted his status behind Ronaldo in the natural order, but a moment of conflict between the two following a disagreement over a decision temporarily turned the Madridistas against the Wales talisman in a reaction to his apparent challenge towards his Portuguese team-mate for alpha-male status at the Spanish giants. Hunter debated the point in the aftermath purely from a club perspective, but there is an additional point to add to the argument, and it surrounds the elevated international status placed upon Bale’s broad shoulders as his side push for UEFA EURO 2016 qualification.
Unlike the captaincy, the role of talisman is not an appointed position, but one that is naturally inherited and difficult to shake. For years, Craig Bellamy held the talismanic role for Wales, his attitude and character proving as effective as his ability as he continued to turn up for his country during a darker time when few of his high-profile team mates shared the same approach to representing their country. Bale emerged in the shadow of Bellamy under the management of John Toshack, and while he rose to prominence under Gary Speed, it was his move to Real Madrid that catapulted him to become the leading man in Chris Coleman’s side following Bellamy’s international retirement. Bale now leads the front line for Wales and his influence upon the squad is immeasurable, and a strong start to the qualification campaign has boosted his belief in the national side, enough to suggest his status with Wales can be repeated at Madrid.
If Hunter’s assessment of Bale’s growing confidence in correct, then the challenge may prove to be his most difficult yet. The role of talisman is not an appointed position, and to subconsciously dethrone Ronaldo, he would need the full support of the Bernabeu’s bating crowd. With room only for one king, taking on the world’s best is as tough as it comes, and as Ronaldo’s stock continues to grow his status remains firmly-fixed in the heart and minds of the Madridistas that worship his every move. However, while Bale would actively deny any challenge to his attacking partner, the longer he plays two different roles for club and country the more difficult it psychologically comes to adapt between the two. With Ronaldo now facing a suspension from his red card last week, Bale was unofficially promoted to team figurehead for Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Real Sociedad, and it is a role he impressed in at the end of last season when his strike partner missed the final few games of the campaign through injury. Back then, Bale produced. His mesmerising winner against clasico rivals Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final confirming his ability to accept and succeed in the challenge.
Of course, while Bale offers lip service to the Madridistas in order to retain their often delicate and volatile support, he has a genuine passion for representing Wales and relishes his elevated status in the side. Taking Wales to a major finals would rank as his finest personal achievement to date, and would far eclipse any silver trinkets and trophies that he has started to pick up during his career at the Bernabeu. Ironically, in order to keep on side with the Madrid fans, Bale needs the vocal support of Ronaldo. Comfortable in his talismanic role, Ronaldo is happy to show public support for Bale despite his moment of petulance that caused this debate, and the fact that his word carries so much weight shows that Bale is set to play second-fiddle for at least a little while longer. Hunter’s colleague Guillem Balague describing Bale’s reluctance to stand against his team-mate having more to do with his British ‘no, you first’ attitude. Both players have been linked with returns to the English Premier League, with Bale looking the most likely to depart the Bernabeu in the near future, if the rumours are to be believed.
Whatever the future holds for either player, there is no doubt that Gareth Bale is in the best professional position of his career, and Chris Coleman and Wales are clearly benefiting as a result. Taking on Ronaldo for the mantle of Real Madrid talisman is one thing, but qualification with Wales is more realistic, and more important. Qualification will largely depend upon Bale, as both his presence and performances will inevitably prove to be the deciding factor between success and failure. Ronaldo remains the darling of the Bernabeu, but even he has struggled to make his mark on a major international tournament, and Bale may yet eclipse him in this regard if qualification can be achieved. Bale’s confidence for club and country will also depend on the reception he receives from the Real Madrid supporters, and conscientiously sitting in the shadow of Ronaldo for at least a little while longer may prove to be his best option ahead of a hugely important year of international football.