The October international break has provided the Wales men's national team with two qualifiers for the UEFA European Championships, with the tournament due to take place across the continent next year.
The first of these Autumnal qualifying matches saw Ryan Giggs’ Dragons play out a 1-1 draw with Slovakia in Trnava and, while he didn't get on the scoresheet, it was glaringly obvious that the Slovakian defence recognised the danger posed by Gareth Bale. A bruised crossbar was the closest the 30-year-old got in a solid performance but it was the latest reminder of what a catalyst the one-time most expensive player in world football can be.
Giggs has said that Bale is the greatest Welsh footballer he’s ever seen, and few could argue that he isn't one of his country’s best ever players.
However the break in domestic fixtures, combined with the love shown in Wales, offers Bale the opportunity for appreciation he is rarely afforded over in Spain, where he is on a six-year £187 million contract with Real Madrid.
Los Blancos are unbeaten in La Liga this season but the Welshman is not quite finding favour under manager Zinedine Zidane, even if he is far from being discarded just yet.
Bale remains in Spain for now, and the goalscoring burden that was passed over following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus has been largely taken on with gusto by Karim Benzema, the leading La Liga scorer in 2019 and the joint-top scorer for the current season.
Still, eight matches into the campaign, Bale has proven to be just as important as the Frenchman. He has two goals and two assists so far, and has managed an average of 1.3 key passes and dribbles per game. He was given a standing ovation by his home fans for his performance against Granada - a rare show of respect in his six years in Spain, but a custom which should have been far more frequent since his £85.1m move from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013.
In the 2018 Champions League final Bale memorably came off the bench to bag a brace, the first goal of which was an audacious and awe-inspiring bicycle kick. His immediate comments to cameras amidst the jubilation of Real’s third-successive European title indicated that his time in the Spanish capital was coming to an end:
"Obviously I need to be playing week-in, week-out and that hasn't been happening this season for one reason or another. I had a five-week injury at the start of the season and I've been fit ever since. I'll have to sit down in the summer and discuss it with my agent and take it from there."
The greatest goal EVER scored in a final 😮
Gareth Bale's Champions League stunner 😍
Zidane's subsequent resignation renewed the possibility of Bale having a central role. But a turbulent season followed, featuring three managers, a quickly-curtailed Champions League defence, an early slide out of the Spanish top tier title race, and a Copa capitulation to fierce rivals Barcelona.
With Zidane reinstalled in the hot-seat last summer, it appeared once again that Bale’s time may be up. Ahead of a pre-season match against Bayern Munich from which Bale was due to be excluded it seemed to writing was on the wall.
“Bale didn’t play because he is very close to an exit,” his manager Zidane conceded. “We hope he can leave soon, it is even possible tomorrow. We are working to finalise his move to a new team.”
Yet Bale has scored 104 goals in 238 games for Madrid, reaching the same tally the Brazilian Ronaldo achieved between 2002 and 2007. He’s also almost doubled his manager’s goals record during his own time as a player for the club in approximately the same number of appearances.
There are a few unwanted millstones that are flung over his neck. For example, Real have lost each of their five Clasicos in which he has started against Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu, undoubtedly the most important must-win fixture on their calendar.
The overriding fact, however, should remain that Bale won four Champions League titles in his first five years at the club, and he has been a vital player in procuring that silverware. Important goals are seemingly his forte. In the 2014 Champions League final, against city rivals Atletico, Bale began the extra-time goal glut after Sergio Ramos had dragged Real back into contention in the dying minutes of normal time.
For the national team he scored in each of Wales’ group games at Euro 2016 and has gone on to become their greatest goal-getter of all time by surpassing Ian Rush's previous high.
Bale is making sure his stock is steady with his actions on the pitch. When questions are being asked of him, he is getting his head down and working hard.
"I think you play with a lot of emotion and anger comes into it of course, but I am just trying to play football, to enjoy it as much as I can and give my best, whether I am here or in Madrid,” Bale said recently of his efforts for club and country. “Whenever I step onto the pitch, I give 100 percent to help the team, and I will continue to do that."
The international break has come at a good time for Gareth Bale since Wales is where he is beloved. He could do with being given the same worthy support at his club too.