Following Gareth Bale’s world-record move from Spurs to Real Madrid this summer, it would have been naïve to suggest that anything other than the immediate recapture of his blistering form last season would satisfy many in the world of football.
There can surely be no surprise then, that following the lukewarm start to his overseas career, the knives in the British press have already begun to be sharpened, with the apparent intent of exposing what a flop the Welshman has been and how expensive he was… because clearly nobody had gathered the latter.
Although these reports if a little predictable do garner some interest, they rarely seem to take into account the full picture.
Indeed, an example of such a piece, which takes another journalistic swipe at the forward can be found in today’s Daily Mail.
Neil Ashton, writing under his banner of ‘Ash Wednesday’ – (can’t imagine how much cognitive effort that title took to think up) writes how in six appearances so far for Madrid the 24-year-old has touched the ball just 135 times. “To put that into some sort of context, Bale was in possession 103 times in his final game for Tottenham last season.” Quite what that is supposed to prove I don’t know.
And nor, apparently, does Ashton, who later writes, in a vein utterly contrary to that seemingly intended by his headline “he remains an exceptional player, but he is going through some tough moments in the first phase of his career with his new club.” Why, how perfectly rational…
But, I digress. Rather than lampooning Ashton let us instead examine a few facts about Gareth Bale and other players who have made similar moves abroad and ascertain why the press should, perhaps, give the forward a break.
Gareth Bale had no control over his transfer fee.
Much fuss has been made over the £86m Madrid parted with in a bid to secure the left-footer’s services. By ‘fuss’ I don’t for a second mean that this kind of price was in any way justifiable, but to throw it in Bale’s face because he hasn’t shot out of the blocks in his first few games is a tad unfair. It was in fact shrewd negotiation on the part of Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy that saw the fee elevated to that figure, that and the fact that Madrid were willing to pay it. To quote Michael Sheen’s reprisal of Brian Clough in ‘The Damned United’, “football’s all about money now”. And it is. Bale was a Tottenham asset and if Real Madrid were willing to pay £86m for his services, then that’s what he was worth, regardless of whether other clubs would have paid that fee or not.
Not all players start well for new clubs
Following a goal on his debut, Bale’s subsequent five appearances in the white of Madrid have been somewhat understated. His opportunities, however, have since then all been from the bench, bar his starting berth against Barcelona. Indeed, cumulatively, he has played 231 minutes so far, and is yet to play a full 90. Combine these sporadic chances with a niggling injury and the fact that he’s been placed in multiple positions by manager Carlo Ancelotti and it’s fair to say that the Wales international hasn’t yet had the benefit of consistency in his career for his new club.
Indeed, when you consider that in his first seventeen games for Arsenal, club legend Theirry Henry scored just twice, Bale’s one in six isn’t that bad. It could be argued of course that Bale cost eight times what Henry did, but as I said… that’s not really his fault.
Gareth Bale is NOT Cristiano Ronaldo.
The layman’s conclusion from the wildly inflated fee Madrid paid to secure Bale, is that his performances should be £6m better than those of his Portugese counterpart, Cristiano Ronaldo. These were, however, two very different transfers. In his previous three seasons before moving to the Spanish capital, Ronaldo scored a total of 99 goals in all competitions. Bale, on the other hand scored 58, with the majority of those coming last season. It was common knowledge that, though a phenomenally talented player, he hadn’t achieved a consistent goal scoring record in England prior to his move to Spain, so to expect the same is kind of performances is unrealistic. With such similar transfers fees, comparisons between the two will be inevitable. Neil Ashton for example, points out that compared to Bale’s 135 touches this season, Ronaldo has had 773, but, then again, the Portugese has played over five times as many minutes.
Bale must adapt to a new culture and team.
It’s no secret that very few British players have made moves abroad and that even fewer of these have proven to be successful. The upheaval of moving to a new country cannot be underestimated for anyone. Bale is just 24 and has moved to a place where he knows next to no one. Combine that with him having been thrown into a team of players that have already played together, speaking a language he isn’t fluent in and it is bound to take time to settle down. The same was true of Manchester United’s David De Gea when he arrived from Atletico Madrid two years ago. As soon as mistakes crept in, the British press set upon him, regardless of the fact he was 20-years-old, living in a foreign country with unfamiliar teammates, oh, and barely spoke English, yet this season he’s been one of the club’s stand-out performers.
Bale isn’t to Real Madrid, what he was to Tottenham.
Better players, different team shape, no defined position in the side and no need for a Madridsta talisman – there is simply no comparison.
When we consider these various factors in conjunction with the fact that Bale is yet to play the equivalent of three matches for his new side, the criticism he is receiving does seem to be a little bit harsh. I’m not saying he was worth £86m, he wasn’t, or that he will be as good as Ronaldo, he won’t, but it only seems fair that he should be given a chance to settle. Sorry Mr. Ashton, you don’t have my backing on this one.