The new La Liga season is barely a week old and already the boo birds are circling over Gareth Bale. The Welsh international is a favorite target of Real Madrid fans when the club falls short of expectations, as it did in Sunday’s season opener against Sporting Gijon.
Of course Bale did himself no favors when, in the first half, he found space on the left and chose to shoot from an impossible angle when he had two teammates steaming unmarked into the box.
Madrid coach Rafa Benitez has moved Bale into a central position, just underneath the striker. It’s a different position than he occupied under Carlo Ancelotti, who preferred to deploy him on the wing. But it’s typically where he plays for Wales, where he has had great success in the role.
It’s been two years now since Bale left Tottenham Hotspur to join the La Liga giants. After some early success in his first season, he’s experienced two seasons of ups and downs. While there have been some glowing moments – such as when he scored the winning goal in Real Madrid’s 10th European title win – there are few Madrid fans who feel the 26-year-old has truly lived up to his potential, or his €100m price tag.
Bale also remains a transfer target for Manchester United with manager Louis van Gaal intent on bringing him back the Premier League. United is reportedly preparing to make one final big push to sign Bale before the transfer window shuts, and may even use goalkeeper David De Gea, long a transfer target for Madrid, as a makeweight.
But reports in Spain have it that Bale remains central to Benitez’s plans and is not for sale at any price. Club president Florentino Perez has also been reluctant to sell the Welshman, having paid a club record fee for him just two seasons ago.
However Real Madrid fans are not so endeared towards the player. Particularly in light of stories in the Spanish press claiming that Bale’s move into a more central position has unsettled Cristiano Ronaldo. For his part, Bale insists he is happy at Real Madrid and has no desire to leave, despite being a frequent object of ire for fans at the Bernabeu.
After two seasons with the club Bale has had plenty of time to settle. In his new central role under Benitez, he has a chance to answer his critics. If he can put together a consistent run this season and repay the trust his coach has placed in him, perhaps he may finally even be able to earn the admiration of the Real Madrid faithful.