Bale express finally delivers for Real Madrid
Critics are won over as Welsh speedster goes into sideline overdrive before hitting winner against Barca
Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring a wonderful late goal to deliver Spanish Copa del Rey final for Real Madrid over great rivals Barcelona in Valencia. Dani Pozo/AFP/Getty Images
Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale celebrates after the Copa del Rey final victory over Barcelona at Mestalla Stadium in Valencia. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters
Managers often complain they do not get a good view from the touchline but this time it could not have been better. Carlo Ancelotti called it “perfect”. From where he stood, the Real Madrid coach watched in awe as barely metres away Gareth Bale started the sprint that ended with him scoring what he admitted was the “biggest” goal of his career: a 50-metre gallop that won the Copa del Rey for Real Madrid.
Alongside Ancelotti was Madrid’s assistant coach, Paul Clement. “I’m not sure I have ever seen a goal like that,” he said.
There was a moment at the start of the run when the nearest anyone from Barcelona got to Bale was their manager Tata Martino. The Welshman’s first touch had been on the half way line and as he pushed it past Marc Bartra he was buffeted off the pitch but he did not stop. Instead he sped by like a racing car using the pit lane to overtake, screeching back on to the track in the lead. As he passed Martino and accelerated, he tore through Barcelona’s technical area.
If they looked at him on the Barcelona bench, he looked only at the ball. “I actually scored a similar goal for Wales not too long ago where I had to run off the pitch so I was just trying to get round him any way I could and carry on,” Bale said. “The only thing I was thinking was that I had to get round him. I just had my eyes on the ball.”
Once he had a lead, Bartra could not recover. The young defender admitted he felt his muscles contract. Bale raced away and nudged it through Jose Pinto’s legs.
The pictures and jokes were circulating quickly. One depicted him as the Road Runner, Bartra the Wile E Coyote trailing in his wake. Another was a mock-up of a speeding ticket for Mr G Bale, Campeon de Copa, for overtaking recklessly, crossing a continuous white line. El Pais called him Usain Bolt.
“It was an incredible goal,” Clement said. “He was at least two to three metres off the field in front of the Barca dugout and from that point on you never think it’s going to end up with him putting the ball in the back of the net.
“It’s just an amazing goal and it shows what an incredible athlete he is. He has great technical ability but that shows what power and pace he has got. To produce that kind of run so late in the game, 84 minutes, is incredible.”
“I haven’t seen it back yet,” Bale admitted afterwards, but there will be time for that. It was not just the goal, either: Bale was involved constantly, playing wide on the left. He took six shots over the 90 minutes, scored one and was involved in making the other.
He even had another goal disallowed. Asked if he thought the decision wascorrect, he replied, seemingly still baffled: “I’m not sure, to be honest. But it’s in the past now.”
By the time he departed the Mestalla, it was gone 1am and Madrid were preparing to fly back to the capital, where thousands of fans were celebrating at the statue of the Goddess Cibeles. The squad arrived there past 4am.
“This is amazing,” Bale said. Outside, the team bus waited and fans chanted. “I’ve always watched Madrid and the reason I wanted to come here was to win all the trophies. But I haven’t really thought about [what this means]. I’m just trying to celebrate now, to enjoy the moment and hopefully in future years I’ll be able to look back on this as a great moment.”
It may sound ridiculous for a player who had just scored his 20th goal in all competitions and who also has 16 assists, but there was pressure and there were doubts. There was a strange sensation the statistics did not tell the whole story, while injury and a late arrival that denied him a full pre-season had prevented him from having the continuity he wanted.
After the first clasico of the season the Catalan daily Sport ran a front page that gloated that Bale was a failure who had not justified his €100 million fee. Neymar, it said, was a “crack” or superstar; Bale was a “catacrack”, a disaster.
It looked stupid then; it looks stupider now. There were some small doubts in Madrid too but if before the game, one newspaper claimed the “Prince of Wales” was seeking his crown, on Wednesday he wore it. The Prince met Spain’s king, Juan Carlos I.
This was a huge performance on the biggest stage that made a powerful case in his favour. This will always be Bale’s cup.
In the sports daily
, Luis Nieto wrote: “His price was indecent, he came to Madrid without a pre-season, we had to study medicine to understand the injuries, he can barely say ‘Buenos dias’, and he only has one foot. But it’s an exceptional foot which moves at an unstoppable speed. The word Bale must come from “bala” [bullet]. He would not have been out of place in
Chariots of Fire
“That’s only his second final so that was a big game for him tonight. But he has great temperament. He keeps cool in the big games, he doesn’t show nerves,” Clement said. “The club never had any doubts. They paid a big price for him but that’s because he’s such a good player.”
The responsibility had been greater still because Madrid were without Cristiano Ronaldo, who may yet not make the Champions League first leg against Bayern Munich. But Bale has scored nine times now without Ronaldo.
So maybe the Ballon d’Or winner won’t even get back into the team, someone joked. “Good one,” Bale shot back. With that he boarded the bus. In his hand was a replica of the Copa del Rey.