There has been heavy speculation surrounding Gareth Bale’s future at Real Madrid despite an excellent start to life with Spain and he has once again been linked with a move to Manchester United as a consequence.
The Welshman has been booed by Madrid’s supporters at times and to the outside eye looking in, it seems strange given his performances.
In order for us to understand more about the situation, we had a chat with Madrid based journalist Nicholas Rigg to find out what the feelings are towards Bale and how his future is being perceived by the local press and fans.
Hi Nicholas. Thank you for doing this interview. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
I’m a freelance sports journalist based in Madrid and working for ESPN and Diario AS amongst other companies. I mainly cover Real Madrid, attending press conferences, matches and other events but also cover Spain’s other La Liga teams. I’ve been based out here almost 18 months and before I came out here I worked for Yorkshire Post Newspapers as a sports reporter for seven years.
In his first year at Real Madrid, Gareth Bale had an incredible campaign where he scored match winners in the Copa Del Rey and Champions League Finals. How did the fans and press embrace Bale during his first season?
Bale was not going to, and perhaps never will, hit the heights that Ronaldo has at the Bernabeu, but he did enjoy a great first season in the Spanish capital. The world-record (depending on who you speak to) price tag could not have helped ease the pressure but the Welshman can look back delighted at not only winning the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, but playing a key role in both.
He went through spells where Madridistas were not overly delighted with his performances, but given the lack of a pre-season and the eventual results, the press and fans were delighted with his first campaign. ‘A man for the big occasion’ after so many big-money arrivals had flopped before him.
In this season, paper talk has been rampant of Bale leaving Real Madrid and in the last few games he has been subject to the jeers in the Bernabeau whenever he was touched the ball. What has changed between last season and now for Bale?
It’s not a surprise for big names to be on the end of the infamous Bernabeu whistles. Iker Casillas and Karim Benzema were earlier this season and they soon managed to win the home support around. Club legend Raul even suffered the same fate. While it’s not great, it’s not unexpected and perhaps not as worrying as it would be should it happen at another club.
In the lead up to the exits of players such as Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria, the Spanish press began a smear campaign against those players by painting them as greedy. Has such a campaign begun against Gareth Bale this season?
Those reports only lasted a few weeks before Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlo Ancelotti poured cold water on them. Bale was accused by the press of being selfish in the defeat at Valencia and the following home match against Espanyol but the decisions he took in going it alone rather than finding his team-mates were the right decisions. Even if they weren’t, they were not wholly selfish decisions.
As it was, Bale received the whistles in a game where he actually played better than Ronaldo, the man who shook his arms and head in disgust. He scored one goal and played a key role in the other, while generally performing well as Ronaldo failed to score at home for the first time in over a year in a league game.
After those accusations, Ronaldo has called for people to “be nice” to the Welshman and Ancelotti has backed his jet-heeled forward on both occasions. There seemed to be an affect in the home match against Atletico in the Copa del Rey when Bale opted to pass more often than shoot, even in good shooting positions, but the selfish tag has not lasted long. It could, of course, always come up again.
In the second leg of the Copa Del Rey tie against Atletico Madrid, Isco avoided passing to an open Bale in the final third on a number of occasions. In an earlier game, Cristiano Ronaldo was clearly irate with Bale after he failed to pass to him. Is Gareth Bale at odds with the players in the Real Madrid dressing room?
There were rumours, mainly from the Catalan press, that some of his team-mates were unhappy with him in that week after the Espanyol game. Barcelona paper Sport even suggested Ronaldo was at odds with Bale in the dressing room. Those rumours were put to bed when Ronaldo came out in defence of his team-mate at the Ballon d’Or ceremony and all looked well at Getafe when Bale embraced Ronaldo during a 3-0 win.
Many reports in the press say Marco Reus will be arriving at Real Madrid in the summer. If a player of Reus’ calibre arrives do you believe Bale will be sold to make room?
The rumours of Reus continue to gather pace in Spain but the big question is just where the German will fit into Carlo Ancelotti’s starting XI. Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo, Modric, Kroos, Isco, James Rodriguez – quite a group of players in midfield and attack. With a clause in his contract allowing a relatively cheap from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, Florentino Perez may not be able to resist, as he couldn’t with James and Kroos in the summer, despite having Xabi Alonso and Angel di Maria at his disposal. Perez and Ancelotti found space then with unexpected departures so it would be naive to suggest he could not, or would not, do the same again.
Bale, however, wants to stay. He’s learning Spanish, he still feels he has a lot to prove and he believes he is at the best place to continue improving his game – alongside the world’s best players at arguably the world’s biggest club. It would be a surprise, to me at least, if he left this summer, especially with the money Perez initially shelled out on him and with the goals that helped Madrid to glory last season.
In your opinion would Florentino Perez sell Gareth Bale to Manchester United if David De Gea could be had in return?
This is the interesting angle. De Gea has been earmarked as a potential recruit for Madrid and it’s easy to see why. He’s Spanish, he’s young, and he’s taking the place of Iker Casillas in the Spanish national team – Perez may well want him to do the same at the Bernabeu. Madrid bought young, Spanish talent in the summer of 2013 in Dani Carvajal, Asier Illarramendi and Isco and the feeling then was that the club wanted a core nucleus of players that represented their country too, just as Barcelona have enjoyed in recent years.
Madrid would be foolish to turn their back on De Gea. He’s grown at United and with Casillas on the way out and Keylor Navas failing to cement any kind of regular starting slot, a goalkeeper should be a priority – especially one that can be part of the backbone of the team for years to come. It could help tempt Perez to part ways with Bale, but only slightly.