It really did seem like it was all over just weeks ago. Gareth Bale was a man out of sorts, out of luck and, more importantly, out of options. Zinedine Zidane said so himself, practically banishing the great Welshman from the team in a public outburst not many expected at that time.
And granted, it was cooking for a long, long time. After all, their infamous relationship was far from a secret. For some reason or the other, the Frenchman and the Welshman never saw eye to eye and, despite Bale’s part in so many glorious Los Blancos moments, particularly the most recent ones, Zidane never truly accepted him as part of his gala roster.
That was always the weird part. Sure, Bale’s stubbornness also must have played a role in that. His unwillingness to learn Spanish and his constant injury woes served to stifle his popularity from soaring in the capital. From that point of view, one could understand Zidane’s slight grudge that he was reportedly holding.
But no more, or at least that’s what one could conclude from his latest words, praising and even practically confirming Bale would not only stay in the squad but also that he would play a big role within it.
And looking solely at the team’s needs and Bale’s qualities, it’s difficult to argue with this decision regardless if it was taken willingly or forcefully after a reported move to China broke down.
Of course, there’s no escaping the fact that Bale’s injury record is his biggest weakness of all. That aspect of any player can make even the best and deadliest of them redundant. You can’t really use a goal-scoring machine if its engine is broken at all times. And Bale’s really seemed to be more often than not.
Just last season, in 2018/19, he suffered five different injuries that sidelined him for a total of nine games. But even if five injuries sounds like an awful lot, the actual total of games he missed is far from catastrophic.
In fact, that still left him with a chance to take part in a total of 42 games across all competitions, which is more than many players get to play when fully fit. For all his faults in language and his apparent glass physique, Bale still very much delivers.
Last season, when Real Madrid were struggling for goals, he netted a total of 14 and even assisted seven across all competitions in the process, becoming the team’s second-highest goal scorer of the campaign. Not too bad for a player who feels relatively unimportant and unloved at the Bernabeu.
But that’s not even his best trait, not in the slightest. Bale just might be the most clutch player Real Madrid had since Cristiano Ronaldo. No one can deny the Portuguese’s influence on the pitch, especially in the big Champions League nights, for sure.
And that one is a given and cannot really be disproved. But it was actually Bale that completely took the spotlight on occasions in recent years, most notably in the 2018 final against Liverpool.
They might have had some differences in the past but surely it would be in Zidane’s best interest not to lose such an influential player.
Of course, one has to consider his age. Bale is 30 years old and, for a player who relies on his pace and fitness, the latter stages of his career might not be as successful as one might anticipate. But even with that in mind, Real need figures like him in the squad to successfully transition to the younger generations.
Maybe Bale doesn’t seem like the best role model out there but at this stage the Galacticos cannot be picky and neither can Zidane.
Once upon a time Bale was the most expensive player on the planet and, today, although his pedigree and reputation have certainly decreased, he is still very much an elite-quality squad member.
Tactically, it also makes sense. He can be deployed on either wing and he can be deployed as a centre-forward as well. That kind of tactical flexibility is invaluable, especially for teams who are in transition and also struggling with injury problems.
And, unfortunately for Florentino Perez and his boys, Real Madrid are currently both. They are ridden with injuries: Hazard? Injured. Asensio? Injured. Brahim Diaz? Also injured. Rodrygo? You guessed it, injured.
Whether they like it or not they seem to need Bale even more than he needs them. This relationship has been through real turmoil but it’s still something that can be fixed.
Bale showed he’s willing to make it work as he started Madrid’s opening game against Celta Vigo last weekend. He even provided his team with an important assist, once again showing his ability to deliver when they need him.
Just weeks ago it seemed so hopeless but now there just might be light at the end of the tunnel. And not just for Bale and his relationship with Zidane but also for the club as a whole.
Everyone seems to think they were doomed from the start but maybe Bale’s resurrection will prove to be the club’s as well.
A potential and unlikely resurrection is an opportunity Zidane shouldn’t miss.