Madrid fans grateful that Bale has made a Real difference

Welshman’s talents have been pivotal in securing a place in the Champions League final for the Spanish giants

Sat, May 3, 2014, 12:00

The man with peripheral vision surged centre stage. And as Gareth Bale ripped up the middle of Bayern Munich’s pitch on Tuesday night, leaving opponents in his wake with cartoonish speed, then teed up Cristiano Ronaldo to make the score 3-0 to Real Madrid, the mind raced back to something said by Juninho about Paul Gascoigne. That was about peripheral vision, too.

Juninho was discussing his favourite goals, one of which was Gascoigne’s for England versus Scotland at Wembley at Euro ’96, the goal where Gascoigne looped the ball over Colin Hendry, then volleyed it home. We tend to think people go over the top about England goals, but this was Juninho and what he said was that Gascoigne’s skill was so impressive because, “at pitch level”, the vision required is different. Some players have that vision, some don’t.

What might look straightforward from the stands or on a TV screen, looks very different from the middle of the pitch, Juninho said. Possibly this is an obvious comment, but it has stuck. Juninho was giving a player’s perspective and a player’s appreciation. He would surely have been impressed with Gareth Bale on Tuesday.

Not only was Bale doing what he did at electric pace, he had the vision and the ability to see Ronaldo to his left and find him with a pass, while being chased down. Had Ronaldo a different personality, he may have immediately recognised Bale’s contribution rather than celebrating his own.

But there you go: “CR7”.

Players and coaches speak of “having pictures in your head” but it takes more than visualisation techniques. Some players see things, others don’t and Bale is one of the former. That is not the only reason why he cost €104 million but it is part of it.

Winning team
Over the past few weeks, Real Madrid fans have begun to see the bigger picture with Gareth Bale. In the space of 31 days Bale has played in eight Real matches – two of which were against Borussia Dortmund and two against Bayern Munich – and has been on the winning team seven times.

Bale has cored six goals in that period, including the extravagant 85th-minute winner in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona.

That cup-winning goal – against Barcelona – changed the opinion of Bale’s impact in Spain since he became the most expensive footballer in history last August.

Tuesday’s pass to Ronaldo, allied to Bale’s overall performance, should shift things further in the Welshman’s favour.

In the future it may come to be seen that Bale was the tipping-point signing that altered the balance in power between Real and Barcelona. That was not an idea many were punting as recently as March, but Barcelona are about to end a season trophy-less.

One of many factors obscured by Bale’s transfer fee from Tottenham Hotspur was that the deal occurred one month after his 24th birthday.

Bale seems comparatively mature and quiet for a young footballer, but even so any 24 year-old would be daunted, not just by the fee, but by the company he was joining.

Even on Tuesday Bale was still saying: “Real Madrid is just the most massive club.”

White shirt
Aitor Karanka was about to turn 24 when he joined Galactico-era Real Madrid in 1997 and the Middlesbrough manager said on Thursday that the sheer pressure of moving to Real Madrid hit him not when he entered the dressingroom, the training ground, the boardroom or when he first pulled on the white shirt and walked out into the Santiago Bernabeu stadium for his competitive debut, but before then: “At the airport”.

Karanka was no Bale, either on the pitch or in the market. But as Jose Mourinho’s assistant for three seasons at the Bernabeu, Karanka was part of a club that reached three Champions League semi-finals and failed to reach one final.

“Some mistakes, some penalties,” Karanka said ruefully.

The penalty shoot-out loss to Bayern two Aprils ago was particularly painful. Ronaldo had scored twice early in the second leg and it looked then as if Real and Mourinho would be meeting Chelsea in the final in Munich. But Arjen Robben scored and then Bayern won the shoot-out.

Seven of the Real team at the Bernabeu that night in 2012 started on Tuesday back in Bavaria. Part of the difference was that Gareth Bale was one of the newcomers.

For €104 million, it will be said, making a difference is the least of the obligations on Bale, but we are already inundated with Le Decima speculation – Real’s 10th European Cup – as if Atletico Madrid did not exist and, if Bale helps win that title in Lisbon three weeks today, he will have made one hell of a difference. However it is put – “Real Deal”, “Bale Madrid”, whatever – he sees it all.

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