Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order. The banner that Gareth Bale proudly displayed after his country had qualified for Euro 2020 riled up his parent club, but it was a fair reflection of where his career was at that moment in time. It wasn’t just a banner, and Bale didn’t create it.
Real Madrid’s former director of football Predrag Mijatovic had made a comment on Spanish radio claiming he got the impression that they were Bale’s priorities, and the Welsh fans latched onto it. Songs were sung, banners were made, until eventually, at the perfect moment of celebration, Bale was seen dancing and singing behind it.
This wasn’t an outright dig at his parent club but a build-up of the frustration he had felt since joining. Unappreciated and left out for the big games, this wasn’t what Bale had envisaged when he became the world’s most expensive player back in 2013, and although he played a key role in their Champions League domination - including that wondergoal in the final against Liverpool - Madridistas haven’t taken the Welshman to their hearts.
His varied past at the Bernabeu is well documented, with his relationship, if you can call it that, with club legend Zinedine Zidane spoiling much of his time there. The pair never saw eye-to-eye and the French manager left him out of several matchday squads as their relationship only deteriorated in his second spell at the helm of the club.
But Zidane’s cloud has finally lifted from Bale’s shoulders. After an unspectacular year on loan at Tottenham, he has gone back to his parent club where just a year remains on the contract he signed in 2016, worth a reported £600,000 a week. It is now or never if he is going to turn things around and stick around in the Spanish capital for more than the duration of this current campaign, but this season has already begun with some promise.
The return of Carlo Ancelotti seems to have given Bale another opportunity at Madrid. Without Kylian Mbappe, who looks set to join next summer, and with Eden Hazard still not firing on all cylinders, Bale has started the opening three games of the league season on the right wing. The fact that Ancelotti has kept quiet and not publicly commented on the Welshman has seen him rewarded with admirable performances as Bale already has one goal to his name and Los Blancos top the early-season table.
This Madrid form and fitness seems to have carried over into his Wales performances too, as he scored a crucial hat-trick in their 3-2 win over Belarus in Kazan. The Spanish media, who have watched on with envy as Bale produces time and time again for his country, are now also beginning to change their tune when it comes to the winger.
“Ancelotti is like a second father for the Briton and it seems that he has re-enlisted him for the Madrid cause,” AS wrote. “His attitude is what we all wanted to see. In Kazan we saw a Bale again who was plugged in as if his life depended on it."
"On Sunday he returns to the Bernabéu, where he has not appeared since 1 March 2020. He returns as a starter. The Bernabéu will lend him a hand if he shows his Welsh version. Wounds are closed with commitment. And goals."
Those wounds have run deep for Bale. There is no crowd or media more expectant in the world than those in the Spanish capital and although it seems unlikely he will get a new deal, going out with a bang in Madrid could well secure him a top move in the summer.
Retirement after his Real Madrid contract expired was touted as a genuine possibility by some media outlets ahead of Euro 2020, but Bale has confirmed that was never an option to him and, when the media had written him off, he might just be producing in the Spanish capital. Wales - Madrid - Golf. It’s time to rewrite the banner.