Why Gareth Bale Will Survive His 'Bannergate' Trolling Of Real Madrid

His flag faux pas will earn him extra enemies in Spain but Zidane still can't do without him
12:57, 20 Nov 2019

Let's call it "BannerGate" - the moment the cold war moved out into the open, in the glow of Wales’ celebrations after reaching Euro 2020.

Gareth Bale played a crucial role, creating the opener for Aaron Ramsey as they beat Hungary to book a place at next summer’s tournament, but for onlookers in Madrid he added insult to injury after the game was over.

Simply by playing in Wales’ qualifiers Bale had already upset Real Madrid fans, who have watched on as he sat out training sessions injured since the previous international break, not playing a single minute for his club in the intervening time. Tensions were further frayed as he claimed last week that he was more excited to play for his country than for £15 million-a-year paymasters Real.

Then Bale’s ear-to-ear grin as he posed with his country’s flag adorning the words: "Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order” was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Things have gone beyond subterfuge, leaks and snide sideways comments now.

“Florentino, kick him out,” Josep Pedrerol, host of Spanish football chat show El Chiringuito, begged the Real Madrid president. Florentino Perez, one of Bale’s principal defenders, was all that stood between the Welshman and the Santiago Bernabeu exit door this summer, eventually calling off a proposed move to the Chinese Super League.

Gareth Bale Played A Crucial Role In Wales' Victory Over Hungary Last Night
Gareth Bale Played A Crucial Role In Wales' Victory Over Hungary Last Night

The 30-year-old had previously refused to leave unless his eye-watering salary was matched, but then when Madrid finally found a taker, they abandoned the idea… partly due to Marco Asensio’s season-long injury, partly due to a sense of injustice that their record signing should be able to walk away without bringing back a single euro of the 100 million they shelled out for him to Tottenham in 2013.

Even if Bale returns to Madrid and scores the winner in his next game against Real Sociedad, he will still face jeers from the Bernabeu crowd. Because while sections of the media accused him of unprofessionalism, he maintained a robotic, detached stance.

That drew criticism from supporters who prefer the unbridled passion and connection they have with captain Sergio Ramos, but also left him a Teflon coating. It was hard to pin him down to any crime in particular, even if his love of golf and constant injuries were a cause of intense irritation.

But finally, Bale has given Madrid fans something concrete to hold against him. Despite the key role he played in the four Champions League triumphs the club has attained during his time there, the Welshman has always been an outsider and now is embracing that status, trolling his club.

It should be acknowledged - but in Spain will most likely not be - that the words on the offending flag stemmed from comments by ex-Real Madrid star Pedja Mijatovic. “The first thing he thinks about is Wales, then golf and after that, Real Madrid, I haven't spoken to him but that's how he comes across,” he explained on Cadena SER radio.

That’s where the Wales fans got the phrase from, and so Bale posing with it might reasonably be seen as a way of him biting back at the criticism he has received. Not that the Blancos supporters will see it that way.

Bale has been a part of four Real Madrid Champions League triumphs
Bale has been a part of four Real Madrid Champions League triumphs

The problem for Madrid right now is that they need Bale more than he needs them. Although the situation has changed slightly in the last fortnight thanks to Rodrygo exploding on the big stage, beyond Karim Benzema, Bale is the club’s only consistently reliable goalscorer - when he’s playing.

“Zidane will not go to war with Bale,” read a Marca headline on Wednesday, and the French coach knows that there will be times this season when he must utilise the forward.

This episode will certainly strengthen Madrid’s resolve to sell Bale, breaking the soured relationship once and for all either in January or in the summer, so long as they can find a buyer.

But until then, if Bale is fit, Zidane will use him - regardless of the inevitable jeers which will ring around the Bernabeu for their new public enemy number one.

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