Monday 18 December 2017

Galactico Gareth gets his lines right on first day

Bale proves an instant hit as 20,000 Madridistas turn out to welcome their club's latest world-record signing

Jim White

All those lessons he had been taking paid off when Gareth Bale stood before the faithful at the Bernabeu stadium and addressed them in their own language.

"It's a dream for me to play at Real Madrid," the world's most expensive footballer said in stuttering but nonetheless entirely recognisable Spanish. "Thank you for this great welcome. Hello Madrid."

It might not have been on the linguistic level of Jose Mourinho using Milanese slang when he first spoke to the Italian media on assuming responsibility of Inter, but it was enough to have a crowd of enthusiastic Madridistas chanting his name to the echo. After all, some of his British predecessors at this club – mentioning no names, Michael Owen and David Beckham – never got much further than "hola".

It is an extraordinary thing, the way they introduce players in Spain. Not for the denizens of La Liga a quick photocall at the training ground with a scarf. They prefer a big production number, a public event, the opportunity to parade their latest marketing proposition. And no club do it quite like Madrid. What greeted Bale was less an introduction than an investiture: welcome the new Prince of Wales.

Or, as the memorabilia on sale outside the ground insisted he should now be termed, hello 'Galactico Gareth'.

Such an event was this, there was a line of fans snaking right round the stadium seeking admission two hours before things got under way. And if anyone is tempted to ask whether, on a Monday lunchtime, they did not have jobs to go to, it is best to remember that this is Spain, so such an inquiry is wholly without tact.

Mostly young, the crowd filtered into the lower tier of the stadium and busied themselves before the arrival of the new man singing libellous songs about Lionel Messi's intellectual capacity.

The biggest of all these Madrid introductions was for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. That day 80,000 packed the stadium to greet the world's most expensive player.

Glimpse

It was not quite like that for the softly spoken signing from Spurs. There were about 20,000 present for a first glimpse of the new boy. But still, Bale's new employers were keen to make him feel he was coming to the right place. They had, for instance, commissioned a sizeable stage for the event, which was constructed last week in expectation of his arrival.

After Tottenham's Daniel Levy had turned the final days of negotiation into a game of who-blinks-first, the platform had been hastily taken down ahead of the weekend game against Athletic Bilbao. But now it was back, decorated with pictures of Bale as a 10-year-old wearing the Madrid shirt.

Proof, evidently, of his lifelong ambition to play for the club. Tracked from the moment he arrived at the stadium by a television crew, Bale, dressed in a sleek, slim-fit suit, did indeed look visibly thrilled to be stepping out at the Bernabeu.

As he emerged into a cascade of camera flashes, he swallowed hard to keep back his excitement. Sitting next to the club president, Florentino Perez, in the directors' box, he had problems getting the headphones of his translation device over his ears. But then he did not need a translator to tell him what the crowd were singing.

They were serenading him with chants of "Bale-y, Bale-y". Perez was effusive in his welcome. Never shy of grandiloquence, Madrid, the president insisted, did not waste time with the second-rate. Only the best in the world were entitled to wear the white shirt.

He described the deal to bring Bale to the club as "intense and complex negotiations", which may qualify as the nicest thing anyone has ever said about Levy's bargaining style. But he did thank Tottenham "for the wonderful opportunity to have this player as part of our plans".

And then he addressed Bale directly.

"Gareth, that moment you dreamt about as a kid is now a reality," he said. "You are now at the most demanding club in the world."

No pressure there, then.

After Bale had said his few words, to tumultuous applause, the pair were joined on the stage by the Madrid board, a bunch of men who have the look of money – in their case, other people's money, mainly that belonging to the bank.

For a moment it looked as if the poor lad had been invited into a Corleone family photograph. But then his own relatives were invited up, all of them seemingly astonished at the reception afforded their lad.

"It was incredible," his sister Vicky said. "We only found out we were coming at midnight last night. All this for our Gareth."

Intriguingly, at no point did coach Carlo Ancelotti make an appearance. Indeed, as with many a Madrid occasion, the absences spoke as noisily as those present. Just five summers ago a similarly ebullient welcome was made for Kaka, 40,000 spilling into the ground to watch the Brazilian take his place in the pantheon.

He, too, was a world-record buy. He, too, was greeted by Perez with a splurge of effusiveness. But he was not there to greet the newbie yesterday. On the very day Bale was paraded, Kaka was quietly let go on a free transfer to AC Milan, his contribution to the cause having cost more than £650,000 per appearance. And that is without even taking into account his wages.

That is the gamble the club make. They break the transfer record with alacrity in part to demonstrate they operate at a different level from the rest of the football world.

Bale is their latest experiment in excess, bought for £85m in the teeth of the worst recession in Spanish history, just to prove they are still the leaders in the game.

For now, though, the 24-year-old Welshman does not have to worry about such macro-economics. His role is to please those who are ultimately paying his fee.

So he put on the full Madrid kit and, sporting a pair of vibrant lemon boots, headed down to the pitch, where he performed a few keepy-uppies, kicked a bunch of footballs into the stands and – to a ringing ovation – kissed the crest on his white shirt. With that the easy part was done. Now all he needs to do is persuade Ronaldo to pass him the ball. (©Daily Telegraph, London

Irish Independent

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