Once the most expensive player of all time and with an enviable trophy cabinet, will Bale be considered one of the best of his generation?
The twelfth edition of the Unofficial Football Index Weekly magazine titled ‘How Will History Judge Gareth Bale?‘ is out now and can be viewed in full via Twitter @ FI_WeeklyMag.
Gareth Bale’s time at Real Madrid has been nothing short of sensational when considering his trophy haul.
Since joining arguably the biggest club in world football for a record £86m back in 2013, he has become the most decorated British export, picking up four Champions League titles as well as one La Liga title and one Copa del Rey.
Four Champions League titles in six years is outrageous enough, yet even this doesn’t tell the whole story.
In the first final, he scored the extra-time goal to put the team 2-1 up on the night; in the second, he made the assist for the team’s only goal before scoring in the penalty shootout.
For the fourth, he came off the bench to turn the tie with a man of the match performance, scoring two goals – one an overhead kick- to become the first substitute to score twice in a final.
And yet, despite such success since breaking the transfer record set by his new teammate, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo – who would go on to write his name as one of the best in history as a 5-time Ballon d’Or winner – Bale has never been seen in the same category.
Whilst he was the standout player at a Tottenham side who he helped return to the Champions League, at Real Madrid the perception has been quite different.
Injuries have played a part in his career.
Persistent injury records have curtailed him from ever becoming the key man in the team, despite the flashes of brilliance he is capable of.
He has started marginally over half of Real’s league games over 6 years (133 out of 228) leaving him seemingly unreliable to the ferociously demanding Madrid supporters, and unable to step out of the shadow of Ronaldo that loomed so large.
He has struggled to warm himself to the fans – and his teammates, too – by his seeming reluctance to embrace the Spanish culture.
Shy and introverted, his failure to speak Spanish – publically, at least – coupled with reports of him choosing to spend time away from his teammates (and subsequently being nicknamed ‘The Golfer’ due to his passion to play instead of socialising) has led to him be marginalised in some quarters: a stark contrast to the profiles of football’s other power players.
The time, it seems, now looks set to be running out on Bale’s career in the limelight.
Deprecated by boss Zinedine Zidane, a move away is on the cards, yet his astronomical wages of around £600k per week could prove a huge stumbling block.
Manchester United will recall the disappointment of Alexis Sanchez (£1.32), whilst former club Tottenham would undoubtedly welcome him back with open arms, yet would go nowhere near such a figure.
With continued concerns about his fitness, Paris Saint-Germain remain the only viable European option that can both offer the wages and level of football to take the risk, yet even they may be put off; particularly with the ongoing saga surrounding their own star, Neymar (£7.49).
It, therefore, appears almost inevitable that Bale could be headed east, to join others swimming in riches in the Chinese Super League.
Regardless of whether Bale moves to Asia, will he ever truly be considered amongst the greatest of his generation, or will he forever be consigned to the ‘promising-but-ultimately falling-short’ category?
Fans will always remember the moments of excellence he brought to games.
His stunning hat-trick against reigning Champions League holders Internazionale back in 2010, or his jaw-dropping show of speed to score in the Copa del Rey final.
Those fond memories will be limited, however, forever morphing in to questions of just how much more he could have achieved had it turned out differently.
A prodigious talent with both the trophy cabinet and the bank balance to prove it, Bale’s legacy is unlikely to be quite as fulfilling as it could have been.