Friday 9 December 2016

Modest Bale living up to his billing as Real deal

Paul Hayward

Published 02/11/2016 | 02:30

Gareth Bale is fast becomming Real Madrid pin-up boy. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Gareth Bale is fast becomming Real Madrid pin-up boy. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

The extravagant new deal signed by Gareth Bale will, if honoured, stretch his Real Madrid career from September 2013 until June 2022 - an epic achievement that no British footballer who has played abroad can match.

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Bale's feat in establishing himself as Real royalty over such a long spell fails to draw the praise it deserves.

The adding of noughts to his new contract - €600,000 a week gross, reports say - affirms that this special Welshman is becoming more and more important to the world's most successful club.

The deal could be seen as the beginning of the end of the Cristiano Ronaldo era at the Bernabeu, with Bale as the megastar.

What does this say about Madrid? First, that contrary to all modern assumptions, a player does not have to be an aspiration brand for the digital age to be highly valued.

Read more: Gareth Bale ends Manchester United speculation by agreeing contract extension with Real Madrid

Ronaldo, who went hunting for fame, was expected to set the tone for all emerging heroes, with his side industry of self-promotion.

But some at the Bernabeu thought 'CR7' a little overzealous in burnishing his own name away from the club's collective marketing drive.

Bale, on the other hand, displays no urge to dwell in the egosphere where Ronaldo looks so comfortable (and where he has much to be immodest about).

Yet humility has not lowered Bale's market rate. There is a measure of self-protection in Real offering him the chance to see out his career in Madrid. He will be nearly 33 when the new arrangement expires. Predators - Manchester United, especially - have been fended off.

None of this should blind us though to Bale's brilliant adaptation to a club and a culture that might have chewed him up and spat him all the way back to England.

His hand in 104 Real Madrid goals in 135 appearances (62 goals, 42 assists) is all the statistical proof you could need of his effectiveness, even when he has played second fiddle to Ronaldo.

Real are often accused of superficiality in their buying policy, and of possessing no purpose beyond big-name acquisitions.

With Bale, however, they identified a conscientious young talent who fitted the counter-attacking style they were adopting to give them a chance against Barcelona's lustrous passing game.

Expensive

In a new book called The Real Madrid Way - How Values Created the Most Successful Sports Team on the Planet, Steven G Mandis, of Columbia Business School, explains the reasoning that caused Real to make Bale the world's most expensive footballer.

Before moving to Spain, Mandis writes, "Bale ran around 7.5 miles per game, which is a little above average. But what was remarkable was that more than one kilometre was at a speed near his maximum, which is about twice the distance of the average player. More importantly, he has the ability to perform and use his technique at that speed".

Clearly this is the point of difference between a power runner of Bale's ability and an Olympic sprinter, say, thrown on to the wing. Bale and Ronaldo can achieve mastery of the ball at full pelt.

The best example on Bale's side remains his astonishing winning goal five minutes from time in the 2014 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona, where he ran round a tackler on the touchline and flew half the length of the pitch to bury the ball.

Mandis describes Real Madrid's vision of "a game of 45 sprints with a 90-180-second recovery jog in between".

With his natural speed and growing power, Bale was well placed to provide those goods.

Imagine, though, stepping into that cauldron three years ago with nagging injuries and the light glinting off Ronaldo's perfectly moisturised face.

A face, by the way, that was capable of casting glares in his new team-mate's direction.

"It's changed me quite a lot," Bale admitted after Real Madrid president Florentino Perez presented him with a shirt with the number 2022 - now, a possible retirement date.

"The reason I came was to try something different. It's never easy. British players travelling abroad are usually not successful but I wanted to try.

"I feel more comfortable each year I'm here. I'm improving my Spanish, my family are more settled. I expect to see out my contract here."

Music to the ears of Madridistas, this statement brings a certain torment to the Premier League, where Bale was PFA Player of the Year in 2011 and 2013.

Several British luminaries have excelled abroad but few were extracted in their early twenties as they were reaching their peak.

Kevin Keegan, John Charles, Glenn Hoddle, Steve McManaman, Paul Lambert, Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle, Michael Owen, Denis Law, Mark Hughes, and Ian Rush were all highly prized catches for foreign clubs. But how many left England in their prime?

Two Champions League titles later, Bale is even free of the 'world's most expensive player' tag, which hangs like a breeze block from Paul Pogba.

"It was well worth paying what we paid for Gareth Bale when we signed him from Tottenham," said former Real president Ramon Calderon. "He can be a player forever with Real Madrid."

This would be some boast for Bale to make when he walks away. © Daily Telegraph, London.

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