Sunday 22 April 2018

John Giles: Gareth Bale won't become a great player until he escapes Cristiano Ronaldo's gigantic ego

Read John Giles every week in The Herald

Gareth Bale during a Wales Open Training session ahead of their World Cup Qualifier against the Republic of Ireland on Friday
Gareth Bale during a Wales Open Training session ahead of their World Cup Qualifier against the Republic of Ireland on Friday
John Giles

John Giles

GARETH Bale has a bit to go before I would call him a great player. It seems to me that he needs to get away from Cristiano Ronaldo to make the final step.

When Bale first arrived in Madrid, he faced a squad totally dominated by Ronaldo and suffered because of it.

Ronaldo has the fans in the palm of his hand and it was very difficult for Bale to establish himself.

On a number of occasions, Ronaldo showed displeasure with the Welshman during games by throwing his arms in the air and I have no doubt that this influenced the crowd.

They got on Bale’s back and made life difficult for him and a lot of that was Ronaldo’s fault.

Bale, at heart, is a quiet lad and left a homely environment created by Harry Rednapp at Spurs for a bear pit in Spain. It was a big move to make and he could have been completely destroyed by Ronaldo’s selfishness.

Put it this way. When Neymar arrived in Barcelona and was having a hard time in the early months, Lionel Messi embraced him and helped the Brazilian star bed down in the team.

He did the same for Luis Suarez after he arrived from Liverpool. He could have made life very difficult for two potential rivals for the adulation of the Barcelona supporters but he did the opposite.

That’s because he is the ultimate professional, the ultimate team player and that’s why I would always pick him over Ronaldo.

Bale knuckled down, survived and flourished. I noted the other day that Zinedine Zidane believes that there is a lot more to come from him. I agree.

His problem is that he is trying to find room to express his talent in a team controlled by a gigantic ego. Bale is good enough to be the main man but he can’t be while Ronaldo is around.

Ultimately that will probably mean a return to England for Bale and for me, Manchester United would seem like a good fit.

I really like Gareth Bale, first as a player and secondly as a human being.

I don’t know him but everything I’ve seen leads me to think he’s a good lad with very few airs and graces and remains rooted in his family and friends back in Wales.

While Ronaldo, with all his money and medals, still feels the need to show off, still stands on the tips of his toes to make himself big in team photos, Bale gets on with his work and plays for the team.

Wales has been a great outlet for Bale and we have seen by the way he leads the team that he has a genuine passion and delight in playing for his country.

In this we have seen glimpses of greatness and I’m sure Zidane watched his man in the Euros with a sharp eye and saw what I saw.

When one player can carry an ordinary team and drive them to the semi-finals of the European Championships, that is an extraordinary achievement.

I don’t buy the idea that Wales are a decent team without him. They have Aaron Ramsey who thinks he’s a great player but isn’t. Without Bale, they would be very average.

Bale has the freedom of the pitch for Wales but for Zidane, he must operate within the indulgence zone created for Ronaldo.

And there is never room for two players like that on the same team.

That is why he is so dangerous to Martin O’Neill and Ireland on Friday and I agreed completely with the Ireland’s manager’s comments on Bale a few days ago.

He said that you can make as many plans as you like for great players and they will find a way to wriggle out of whatever noose you’re trying to place around them.

Even if the plan works for 89 minutes, someone like Bale can rip it to shreds in an eye-blink and win the game. That’s why lads like him are so valuable and so scarce.

We don’t often see players of Bale’s quality in Dublin in qualifying games and I suppose you would have to go back to Thierry Henry in Dublin in 2005 and again, infamously, in 2009 for someone who has the ability to follow his own path on a football pitch and win a game on his own.

I have high hopes for Bale. He is a powerful man with no great dribbling skills but amazing strength and pace.

All he needs is his own team, one assembled to make the best of his talent and then he could blossom fully and become a true great.

Online Editors

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport