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Inside FutbolInside Futbol


Gareth Bale Shines in Cristiano Ronaldo Absence as Real Madrid Delight in Welshman

Cristiano Ronaldo sat alongside girlfriend Irina Shayk in the stands at the Bernabeu to watch Real Madrid take the pitch to meet Real Valladolid on 30th November. Frustrated at having missed the previous game against Galatasara,y as he was on the back of a superb run of form, many fans were left wondering just how his club would manage without their Ballon d’Or nominee. However, the Portuguese was quickly forgotten on the night as Real Madrid’s world-record signing Gareth Bale netted his first hat-trick with his new side, sending emotions flying at the Bernabeu to cap-off a good week with a 4-0 win.

Against Real Valladolid, the Welshman scored a “perfect” hat-trick, breaking the deadlock with a header, before slotting in two strikes with his right and left foot. Real Madrid needed the points as neighbours Atletico Madrid and Barcelona were six points ahead before La Liga’s 15th match day.

The game was the best indication that the former Southampton man is slowly getting to his absolute best. His €100m transfer from England to Spain might be seen as excessive, but recent showings in the white jersey have demonstrated just why president Florentino Perez was interested in luring him to begin with.


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Further supporting Bale taking time to get up to speed is the fact that his transfer was not too smooth. With no proper pre-season with Tottenham, as injuries and rumours of a refusal to train broke through, the forward transferred to the club on the penultimate day of last summer’s transfer window. Having arrived as Mesut Ozil left the club in a shroud of mystery and disappointment to the fans, he was at the risk of becoming the scapegoat for the German’s departure; Ozil having formed a good relationship with the Bernabeu faithful was idolised as a fans’ sweetheart.

Arriving in a foreign country with another culture, the Welshman had to adapt to a different style of football. Short of match fitness and holding a nagging injury, his debut came against Villarreal on 14th September, a game in which he scored. However, Bale appeared to be far from his best, failing to hit that top gear that made him famous with Tottenham.

Below-par showings in defeats against Atletico Madrid and Barcelona did not help his case, either. A substitute in the first and starter in the second, he was isolated for the largest part of his presence on the pitch and was therefore inefficient as Real Madrid lost ground in the title race.

Talk of being purchased injured from Spurs did not help, too. Critics who were raising eyebrows at Bale’s transfer claimed that breaking the world-record fee for a player that was short on silverware, injury-prone and a potential rival to team star Cristiano Ronaldo, whose contract extension talks at the time were not in an advanced stage, was a bad move.

Realising the difficulties that their milestone signing faced, the Real Madrid medical staff devised a plan to get the Wales international back to full fitness. And the benefits were reaped in the most spectacular of ways, Bale scoring two goals and providing another two assists as Los Merengues trashed Sevilla 7-3 on 30th October. Three days later against Rayo Vallecano, the man from Cardiff provided a further two assists as his side just managed to edge out Los Franjirrojos.

His good form continued as he relegated Angel di Maria to the bench, finding his name on the scoresheet or providing crucial passes for his fellow forwards, until coming to life against Real Valladolid with a perfect hat-trick, becoming only the second British man to do so after Gary Lineker, who managed to accomplish the feat in a Clasico match against Barcelona on 31st January 1987.

With nine league games so far, Bale has managed seven goals and six assists. Impressive numbers, but the forward realises that he still faces a mountain to climb in order to justify his transfer fee, something that will be very, very hard to do. However, with Ronaldo missing, he stepped up to fill the Portuguese’s boots, as Real Madrid scored eight goals in the two games that the former Manchester United man missed. And perhaps that is the biggest sign that Bale was a smart buy. In contrast, Neymar could not cut the mustard with Lionel Messi missing against Ajax and Athletic Bilbao, with Barcelona losing both games. Each fixture was away from the Camp Nou, but the Blaugrana were still clear favourites and Neymar might have been expected to inspire in Messi's absence.

Real Madrid have managed to cut the gap with league leaders Barcelona to just three points, largely due to Bale’s proficiency. After a hard start, Real Madrid’s €100m signing is coming to life. He may yet justify his transfer fee quicker than even his biggest fans hoped.

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