If Gareth Bale looked somewhat awkward watching on as his Real Madrid teammates tossed Zinedine Zidane up into the air in celebration of the club’s La Liga title win and the Frenchman’s contribution to it, it’s probably because that’s how he felt. The Welsh winger hasn’t exactly tried to mask his true feelings and emotions in recent weeks.
His actions on the sidelines and in the stands became something of a sideshow to Real Madrid’s title charge, with Bale playing up to the watching cameras. As an unused substitute for the majority of Los Blancos run-in, he once pretended to be asleep, pulling his face mask over his eyes, and also used a paper cup to make a pair of binoculars with his hands.
This isn’t to mention the frequent pictures of him practicing his golf swing on the training ground, no doubt hitting back at those who claim he cares more about getting on the golf course than playing well for Real Madrid. While Bale was once notably irked by what was said and written about him by the notoriously tough-to-please Madrid press, he now seems to revel in winding them up as often as possible.
All this has led to Bale’s presence at the Santiago Bernabeu (or the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano as it was for the final few weeks of the 2019/20 season) becoming a pantomime. That the Welshman has been reduced to such a peripheral figure for Real Madrid is a shame for all concerned given what he has achieved for the club. This is a player who has won four Champions Leagues, two Spanish titles, a Copa del Rey and three Club World Cups in all white.
Nobody, perhaps not even Bale himself, can recall what initially led to this current situation, but there appears to be no way out of it for either the player or the club. Last summer saw the 31-year-old come close to leaving the Santiago Bernabeu, with a move to Jiangsu Suning in the Chinese Super League all but agreed, only for Real Madrid to call off the deal at the very last moment.
Even then, with Bale reportedly angry at what unfolded, there was no public war of words. No transfer request or demand to be allowed to leave. There was a press conference in which Zidane revealed his desire for Bale to leave, admitting “it would be best for everyone,” but that was all that bubbled to the surface.
The tale of Bale as a Real Madrid player is a peculiar one. It’s not so long ago that he was seen as the future face of the club. As recently as 2018, Los Blancos president Florentino Perez wanted Bale to fill the void left by the outgoing Cristiano Ronaldo. And yet somewhere along the line his relationship with Zidane suffered a catastrophic breakdown. It’s just that nobody can quite pinpoint where.
It’s a situation that benefits nobody. Real Madrid are burdened with a bench player on a salary of €15 million a year, making him one of the highest paid players in the sport, while Bale is wasting the peak years of his career making binoculars out of his hands and pretending to be asleep in the stands.
And yet the suggestions out of the Bale camp are that he intends to sit out the rest of his contract until the summer of 2022. The Welshman is settled in the Spanish capital where he enjoys the climate and, yes, the golf courses, and he naturally enjoys the money. No other club is willing to pay him €15 million a year and Bale isn’t willing to accept a salary of anything less than that.
What’s more, Real Madrid have seemingly stopped trying to shift Bale off their wage bill. The summer transfer window is now open and there is next to no speculation over potential suitors for the 31-year-old. It is widely expected that he will still be at the Santiago Bernabeu when the 2020/21 season kicks off, most likely still in the stands are on the subs bench. There isn’t even a hint of another offer from China.
There’s still scope for Bale to earn the trust of Zidane again to become a key figure again, just as David Beckham did with Fabio Capello all those years ago at Real Madrid, but there’s a long way back for the Welshman to get to that point. Once seen as the future face of the club, he is now just a face in a crowd.