Since Gareth Bale joined Real Madrid for a then world record fee in 2013, only Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema have scored more goals for Los Blancos.
By every tangible metric, the Welshman’s stay in the Spanish capital was a success; four Champions Leagues, two La Liga titles and one Copa del Rey, as well as multiple UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup wins.
Bale saved many of his 105 goals in Real for the biggest occasions, scoring the winner in two of those four Champions League finals and an impossible solo goal to win the 2014 Copa del Rey final against bitter rival Barcelona.
Those moments’ strength, speed and spectacular acrobatics showcased the very best that Bale’s game has to offer and more than repaid the $132.9 million fee Real paid Tottenham Hotspur for his services.
That his time in Madrid, then, has come to such an unhappy end, with Tottenham confirming a season-long loan deal on Saturday, is a shame for all parties involved.
For Bale, he won’t get the send-off that his accomplishments deserve and at perhaps any other club would have earned him legend status, while the fans, due to the animosity many hold towards him, will never truly get to enjoy the success he’s brought them.
While there’s no doubt Bale could have behaved differently at times, Real Madrid fans have a reputation of booing their own.
In recent times, not even club legends Ronaldo and Iker Casillas have been spared the jeers and whistles inside the stadium, giving some indication of the lack of support this fan base often provides.
Indeed, by the end of 2018 — during the first somewhat barren spell this club had endured in the last seven years — average attendances at the Bernabeu dwindled to 62,000, leaving almost 20,000 empty seats.
Regardless, there’s no doubt Bale’s antics on the substitute bench and infamous “Wales, golf, Madrid. In that order” flag while on international duty antagonized an already fickle fan base.
There will certainly be no love lost between Bale and the Spanish press, which has at times been relentless in its persecution of the Welshman. “James and Bale, two other bad deals,” wrote Sport newspaper.
“Florentino Pérez spent 191 million euros between the two signings and has barely recovered 13,” it read. “Nor have they succeeded in the field, where they showed flashes of their quality but did not reach Galacticos.”
If four Champions League titles in seven years cannot be defined as succeeding, then spare a thought for every other player that arrives at the club.
“Bale has cost Real Madrid 23,000 Euros per minute,” wrote rival paper AS upon learning of his imminent departure. “The club had to pay him €30 million last season for playing only 27% of the possible minutes,” it read.
Bale’s loan move back to north London offers him a perfect opportunity to rekindle his career.
But now 31 and with a lengthy history of injuries, coupled with severely limited playing time in recent months, there are legitimate doubts as to how well Bale’s body will hold up in the Premier League — Spurs have reportedly prepared a month-long training plan in an attempt to get his body ready for the rigors of playing regular competitive football once again.
Despite the lingering questions around his fitness, it’s impossible not to view this as the ideal move for both Tottenham and Bale. There’s no doubt the forward still possesses world class ability, something this Spurs side desperately needs.
After reaching the Champions League final in 2019, Tottenham struggled last season to bounce back from the disappointment and quickly sacked Mauricio Pochettino in favor of José Mourinho.
The Portuguese endured an inconsistent first season in charge but there were, at times, signs this squad could perhaps still reach the levels that saw it finish runner-up in both the Premier League and Champions League.
After signing for Tottenham from Southampton in 2007, Bale gradually grew into the first team but it wasn’t until three years later that he exploded onto the world stage. With Spurs 4-0 down and playing with 10 men, Bale scored a stunning hat-trick against Inter Milan at the San Siro to announce himself as a star player in Europe.
While he may no longer possess all of that blistering pace, he unquestionably still has enough quality to give any defender in the Premier League trouble.
Mourinho has publicly expressed his admiration for Bale on a number of occasions and has been open about his attempts to sign him while he was in charge of Real Madrid. Their paths never crossed, with Bale joining the season after Mourinho left — but eight years later Mourinho finally has his wish.
Perhaps more than anything, Bale just needs to find a home where he feels loved. He will certainly find that back in north London with a fan base that still adores him.