The Welsh winger was considering his future in Spain, but now looks certain to stay and should shine following his team-mate’s surprise departure
After Real Madrid won the Champions League final by beating Liverpool in Kiev on May 26, both Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo hinted that they may leave Real Madrid.
At the time, Ronaldo’s remarks seemed little more than a strategy to earn a better contract and a little of the limelight, with Bale’s complaints borne of frustration following another difficult season at the Santiago Bernabeu.
If anyone was going to leave, it would surely be Bale and not Cristiano. But two months on, the Portuguese is now a Juventus player and the Welsh winger is gearing up for a sixth season at Real.
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“I will speak to my agent this summer,” Bale said straight after the final whistle in Kiev. “I need to play more. I’m not happy with the minutes I have played this year. Not starting the final was a disappointment.”
It must have been. However, he made up for that disappointment and also proved a point by coming off the bench to score the two decisive goals in a 3-1 win, the first a spectacular overhead kick.
Later, in a Q&A session in Cardiff, Bale said: “I was frustrated, I’ve said before, not to start the game. But I knew I was capable of being involved in the game and I was.
“It was great to get the goal; pure emotion. It’s just kind of one of those things that you don’t think about, you just react to it. I’ve always wanted to score a bicycle kick. Such an occasion was the place to do it.”
For his part, Ronaldo had netted a similar strike in the Champions League quarter-finals away to Juventus, earning an ovation from the Italian supporters in the process.
Next season, those fans will be his own after the five-time Ballon d’Or winner completed a shock move to the Italian champions for a fee in excess of €100m earlier in July.
Following his departure, Real Madrid set their sights on a replacement, with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Eden Hazard the targets to fill the substantial void left by the Portuguese, who hit 450 goals in 438 appearances for Los Blancos in his nine seasons in Spain.
However, Paris Saint-Germain are not contemplating the sale of the Brazilian attacker or the France forward, while a move for Chelsea’s Belgian star also looks difficult after his brother hinted on social media this week that he will not be joining Real and new coach Maurizio Sarri saying he hopes to improve him as a player at Stamford Bridge.
Either way, Real Madrid do not want Bale to leave and that was the case even before Ronaldo’s exit. With the Portuguese now gone, he is an even bigger part of the club’s plans for next season.
“Galactico on call” Madrid-based sports paper AS wrote on their front page on Monday of this week, explaining that the Madrid side in 2018-19 will be in his hands following the departure of Ronaldo and the difficulty to bring in another top player.
Bale, who turned 29 earlier this month, has netted 88 goals in 189 games for Real in his five seasons at the club, helping Los Blancos win four Champions League crowns in that time.
He has only played 53 per cent of the total minutes since he has been at Madrid, scoring a goal every 159 minutes (compared to Cristiano’s strike rate of a goal every 84 minutes) in his Real career and one every 112 last season (to Ronaldo’s one every 83 minutes in 2017-18).
However, the Portuguese took all the penalties and almost all of the free-kicks and also took up the more central positions at Real, especially in the last few seasons when he was more of a penalty-box player than the winger of old, with Bale seen as more of a creator.
That is not say that the Welshman will score as freely as his former colleague, but there is often the impression that his best performances came when Cristiano was not in the side and that he was somewhat inhibited by the presence of his high-profile team-mate.
Now, with Ronaldo part of the past at the Santiago Bernabeu, he should get more minutes and Real Madrid might well see a different Gareth Bale – and that could be great news for Los Blancos as they begin an uncertain new chapter without their prolific Portuguese.