A world-record transfer fee, three goals in the Champions League final and 15 major trophies later, Gareth Bale’s career at Real Madrid should end without a groan.
Away for what would have been his final game at the Santiago Bernabeu, the Welsh footballing legend’s historic nine-year stay in the Spanish capital comes to an end with just one game to say goodbye.
This final hurray will come at a stage where Bale has repeatedly written his name in history, the European Cup final, but with just seven appearances this season the chances of any further impact seem outdated.
Bale was not seen as Madrid ended their La Liga title-winning season with a 0-0 draw at home to Real Betis, the irony being that the game took place at a Bernabeu undergoing reconstruction which his crucial goals helped pay for.
Included in the last 25 for the final against Betis, Bale complained of back problems before the game, the same ailment that saw him miss a 4-0 loss to Barcelona in March, before scoring a brace for Wales four days later.
The 32-year-old said goodbye to the Spanish capital without any kind of tribute, and is likely to have a similar lack of influence against Liverpool in Paris.
It will be a painful way for Bale to go out, against a team and in a match where he scored one of the greatest goals in football to win Madrid’s 13th Champions League in 2018.
But it was the 10th that was the breakthrough, with Bale’s eventual winner of extra-time competition against Atletico Madrid in 2014 ending a 12-year curse where Real weren’t even close to winning. reach the final.
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That goal and win put them on course for three more wins and two more final goals from Bale, giving Madrid fans everything they wanted, from a man they no longer loved.
The infamous ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid.’ Banner in 2019 caused a soured relationship to reach the point of no return, and Spanish media doubled down on branding the striker a ‘parasite’ earlier this year.
Bale has seen just 291 minutes of football this season, less than four games, and could well be heading into retirement after a failed loan move to Tottenham last season.
But with a rarely improved trophy cabinet in professional football, he might not be seen as a Madrid great in some eyes, but he will still be seen as a great footballer.
Bale’s four enviable Champions League medals come with three league titles, numerous Super Cups and a Copa del Rey win where he scored one of football’s most iconic goals.
But it’s not just the quality that has made Bale’s record £86million transfer an absolute bargain, it’s also the quantity.
Managing to find the net 106 times in 258 games, the former Spurs and Southampton man was unstoppable at his best and continues to show glimpses of that in a Wales shirt.
Carlo Ancelotti paid tribute to the Welshman earlier in the week saying: “He will always be remembered by Real Madrid fans. He wrote great chapters, we have to recognize that.
All of these statements are undoubtedly true but it looks like Bale won’t get the recognition his impact arguably deserves.
He is far from the first, though, with Madrid legends’ farewells almost exclusively met with disdain.
Appearance record holders Raul and Iker Casillas left the club in tears with their tarnished relationships, and Bale will have the club’s most decorated player, Marcelo, leaving as an additional reminder.
If things go as planned and Bale doesn’t feature against Liverpool, it will be the quietest of farewells to the most impactful players, with his attention then turning to the 2022 World Cup play-offs on June 5.
Madrid-based newspaper AS tell Ancelotti: ‘Left him in the stands because his goodbye was presumably bitter’, but it was the media that went wrong, and maybe without them Bale and the Madridistas could have say goodbye on their own terms.
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