Ronaldo lets Bale know who is 'boss'
Real boss Ancelotti to start Welsh wizard out of position on the right
Jaume Costa is not a name familiar to many British football fans.
Villarreal's 25-year-old left-back, signed from his hometown club of Valencia in 2010, has never been a part of Spain's international squad, has never been mentioned in transfer gossip as a target for Premier League clubs. He was playing in the Spanish second division last season.
But this evening every camera in the El Madrigal Stadium will be pointing at him. When his side take on Real Madrid, he will be at the centre of media attention. The reason for his sudden elevation is this – he will be marking the world's most expensive player. When Gareth Bale makes his debut for Real Madrid, Costa will be the man charged with stopping him.
It may seem rather odd that it will be Costa and not his right-sided full-back partner, Mario, who will be tasked with trying to corral the electric-heeled Welshman. After all Tottenham fans will recall that Bale's most effective work for their club took place on the left side of attack.
The destruction of Maicon in the Champions League tie, which announced him to the watching world, was carried out within a few inches of the left touchline. There is many a Spurs supporter who will tell you that those occasions last season when Bale was employed on the right generally coincided with his least effective contributions to the Tottenham cause. Which is no real surprise since he has given every indication during his career that his right foot is there solely to act as balance to his wand-like left.
But, speaking yesterday, Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti was brief and direct when asked where Bale will play. And it was not on the left wing, not in the hole behind the striker, not even in his erstwhile position of left back. "On the right," he said.
There is a straightforward explanation for Bale being obliged to patrol this less familiar territory: Cristiano Ronaldo will be on the left. The more logical tactical arrangement may be to unleash the left-footed Bale down the left and the two-footed Ronaldo down the right. But this is the way things will be at Madrid. Because the left is where Ronaldo likes to stalk. And at Madrid what Ronaldo wants, Ronaldo gets.
Never mind the merchandise stalls outside the Bernabeu insisting the newcomer be referred to as 'Galactico Gareth', never mind that other employers would mark the arrival of the world's most expensive player by a tactical arrangement centring on his blistering strength, Bale will already have been made aware where he stands in the Madrid pecking order. And it is not at the top. When Bale referred to Ronaldo at his introductory press conference as "boss" he was clearly not joking. A crunching tackle in training yesterday demonstrated the Portuguese's level of deference to his new colleague.
Despite the jibes quickly circulating on Bale's signing that the club had spent £85m on an avatar, a player whose best work is done in the spaces occupied by their leading scorer, a Ronaldo Lite, Ancelotti expressed no doubt that the arrangement would work.
"The two of them can play perfectly well together," he insisted. "They are both great players and it provides absolutely no problem at all." Which may be so, but Bale will not be holding his breath in anticipation that, were Real to be awarded a penalty or a free kick just outside the area tonight, the kind of thing he used to feast on at White Hart Lane, Ronaldo will gift his new colleague the welcoming chance to open his account. Still, Bale is not the kind to complain. As he said at his inauguration, being at Madrid is such a dream he would be happy to don a pair of gloves and play in goal if that was what was required. It is an approach which has impressed his coach.
It was his positive mindset that convinced the Italian to play him against Villarreal, despite his evident lack of match fitness.
"Everyone knows that he has not had a normal pre-season, but his condition is good and he will play. I don't know if he will start, but he will definitely play a part."
Whatever his coach's reassuring public words, tonight Bale will need to show immediately that his lacklustre attempt at keepy-ups at his introduction was no more than the product of temporary nerves. The best way to do that is to electrify El Madrigal. Though if he is to do so, you suspect Jaume Costa will not be the only obstacle to be overcome. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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