, September 09, 2021

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Gareth Bale making the most of an unexpected second chance at Real Madrid

  •   3 min reads
Bale Real Madrid transfer
Bale, Benzema, and Hazard have started the season with fury. Juan Carlos Cardenas/EPA. 

In his own words – just moments after the end of the 2020/21 season and his season-long loan spell at Tottenham Hotspur – Gareth Bale teased that his next career move would “cause chaos.” This remark sparked intense speculation over the decision the Welshman would take after Euro 2020. Some even suggested Bale could be set for retirement.

Of course, nothing dramatic materialised, with the 32-year-old now back at Real Madrid playing regular football. This might not be the “chaos” Bale referred to, but that the Welsh winger is an important figure in the Spanish capital once again has come as a surprise to those that sounded the death knell on his Real Madrid career.

This summer may have played out differently for Bale had Zinedine Zidane remained in his job at the Santiago Bernabeu. The legendary Frenchman’s relationship with Bale publicly broke down over a number of seasons; Zidane might well have finally pushed the winger out of the club for good.

Carlo Ancelotti’s return to Real Madrid, however, has handed Bale an unexpected second chance in La Liga. As a Real Madrid player, Bale played his best soccer under the Italian coach and there are already signs that he is rediscovering his sense of self with the change in management. Bale looks more like his old self.

Bale has contributed in the two games he has played for Real Madrid in La Liga this season. He impressed in the opening weekend win over Alaves and opened the scoring for Los Blancos in the chaotic 3-3 draw against Levante in the following match. While Bale isn’t quite at the level he was eight years ago when he became the most expensive player in the sport’s history, he is an important member of the Real Madrid team again.

“The team has worked really hard in pre-season, every single player has put in a shift,” Ancelotti said after Real Madrid’s 4-1 demolition of Alaves, which Bale started. “Bale has also been totally committed and I’ll think he’ll improve because he’s still not at full fitness. I’ve been impressed with him and he’s shown great desire.”

Real Madrid find themselves in the midst of a generational transition. After the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018, followed by the departure of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane this summer, the squad at the Santiago Bernabeu right now is the club’s weakest in over a decade. It’s not even guaranteed that Real Madrid will be La Liga title challengers this season.

If, however, Ancelotti’s side are to challenge for honours this season, they will do so on the basis of their strength in attack. Karim Benzema remains one of the very best players in his position. The Frenchman has stepped up since the departure of Ronaldo three years ago, scoring 20 or more goals in each of the last three seasons.

So much of Real Madrid’s play in the final third flows through Benzema. He is their attacking conductor. As long as Benzema stays fit, Real Madrid stand a chance of success. What’s more, the 33-year-old appears to be forging an understanding with Eden Hazard who finally looks to have found form and fitness.

Signed for €100m two summers ago, Hazard arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu as the natural heir to Ronaldo. At that time, the Belgian was considered one of the best attackers in the European game, but Hazard has suffered a great deal of misfortune since making the move to the Spanish capital.

Now, Hazard is growing into his role as a difference-maker in all-white while Bale is also helping Real Madrid find structure again. Ancelotti wants his team to play in the 4-3-3 shape that worked so well for him during his first spell at the club and this means wide forwards, like Bale and Hazard, are required.

It could be that Bale finds himself squeezed out of Ancelotti’s first team. Vinicius Junior sparkled in his cameo off the bench against Levante, rescuing a point for Real Madrid from a point they easily could have lost. Marco Asensio, once seen as a Galactico in the making, has the natural talent to hold down a starting spot, and that’s before the potential arrival of Kylian Mbappe is even considered.

Nonetheless, Bale is no longer a waste of a wage for Real Madrid. The Welshman might yet enjoy a career renaissance in the Spanish capital, where he has experienced many of his best and worst moments. There might yet be more good moments to come.

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