A world record transfer fee, three Champions League final goals and 15 major trophies later, Gareth Bale’s Real Madrid career looks set to end without a whimper.
Absent for what would have been his final game at the Santiago Bernabeu, the Welsh footballing legend’s historical nine-year stay in the Spanish capital is at an end with just one game left to say goodbye.
That last hurrah will come on a stage where Bale repeatedly wrote his name in history, the final of the European Cup, but with just seven appearances this season, the chances of any further impact looks obsolete.
Bale wasn’t seen as Madrid ended their LaLiga-winning season with 0-0 draw at home to Real Betis, the irony of which being the game took place in a Bernabeu undergoing a reconstruction his crucial goals helped pay for.
Included in the final 25 for the finale against Betis, Bale complained of back problems before the match, the same ailment that saw him miss a 4-0 loss to Barcelona in March, before he scored a brace for Wales four days later.
The 32-year-old said goodbye to the Spanish capital without any sort of a tribute, and will presumably have a similar lack of influence against Liverpool in Paris.
It will be a painful way for Bale to go out, against a side and in a fixture where he scored one of football’s greatest ever goals to earn Madrid’s 13th Champions League in 2018.
But it was the 10th that was the breakthrough, with Bale’s eventual extra-time competition-winner against Atletico Madrid in 2014 ending a 12-year curse where Real hadn’t even come close to reaching the final.
That goal and win put them on course for three more victories, and two more final goals from Bale, giving Madrid fans everything they wanted, from a man they grew to dislike.
The infamous ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid.’ banner in 2019 made sure a deteriorating relationship reached the point of no return, and the Spanish media doubled down by calling the forward a ‘parasite’ earlier this year.
Bale has seen just 291 minutes of football this season, less than four games worth, and may well be heading towards retirement after a failed loan move back to Tottenham last season.
But with a trophy cabinet rarely bettered in professional football, he might not go down as a Madrid great in some eyes, but he will be seen as footballing great all the same.
Bale’s enviable four Champions League medals are matched by three league titles, numerous supercups, and a Copa del Rey win where he scored one of football’s most iconic goals.
But it wasn’t just the quality that made Bale’s record-breaking £86million transfer prove to be an absolute bargain, it was also the quantity.
Managing to find the net 106 times in 258 games, the former Spurs and Southampton man was unstoppable at his best, and continues to still show glimpses of that in a Wales shirt.
Carlo Ancelotti paid tribute to the Welshman earlier in the week saying: “He’ll always be in the memories of Real Madrid fans. He has written some great chapters, we have to recognise that.”
All of those statements are undoubtedly true, but it appears Bale won’t get the recognition his impact arguably deserves.
He’s far from the first though, with Madrid legends’ farewells almost exclusively met with disdain.
Record appearance holders Raul and Iker Casillas left the club in tears with their relationships tarnished, and Bale will have the club’s most decorated player, Marcelo, leaving as a further reminder.
If things go as expected and Bale doesn’t feature against Liverpool, it will be the quietest of goodbyes to the most impactful of players, with his attention then turning to the 2022 World Cup play-offs on June 5.
Madrid newspaper AS says Ancelotti, “Left him in the stands because his goodbye was presumed bitter,” but it was the media that turned things nasty, and maybe without them Bale, and the Madridistas, would have been able to say farewell on their own terms.
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