Football can be a wonderful thing. When I first arrived in Spain, with next to no level of Spanish to call upon, my conversations were centred around football. Once you got past the ‘hello, how are you?’ part it became a broken Spanglish back and forth using adjectives alongside various players’ names.
In a way, it helped to integrate more as football fans are essentially the same all over the world. Some are more passionate, some are more casual, but the underlying strength is the love people have for the sport itself.
Of course, due to the diverse fan base, you are likely to bump into someone who thinks differently to you. Perhaps due to bias their opinions can be clouded somewhat. Or maybe they prefer a different league and as such find it difficult to praise the one you instead follow. Even in groups of people who support the same team, there can be a huge contrast in who or what they like to see.
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On social media the last aspect is magnified by a thousand.
Then there are players which divide supporters. Maybe they aren’t living up to their price tag – even though it has nothing to do with them. Perhaps the coach continues to select them despite you, the fan, believing another person deserves a shot. Maybe they once played for a rival side and you find that unforgivable. Or maybe, just maybe, there are other forces at work.
Bale in a love-hate relationship with Madrid fans
The most polarising player in Spain is arguably Gareth Bale. Yes, Wale’s hero, is still the black sheep of the family to certain sections of the media and supporters. The former is extremely influential and lead the masses of casual-yet-angry newspaper readers. One person, who has two television shows in Spain, even went as far as to say Bale hasn’t shown any commitment while at Madrid. Seriously.
A LaLiga title, a Copa del Rey, a Supercopa de España, a FIFA Club World Cup, three UEFA Super Cups and three Champions League titles. All of which have been won since Bale joined the club back in 2013. In his four years at the club, and 10 honours later, the Welshman is apparently just running on cruise control.
“But he doesn’t even speak Spanish!” This is next crime of Bale’s. If he averages more than two trophies a season, it clearly isn’t that big of an issue. While I respect the desire from local fans to hear their heroes speak in a language they understand it’s harder for some people to learn a new one, especially at an older age. I’d imagine Bale’s main issue in this regard is he isn’t one for the party lifestyle and spends most of his time at home with his family. Here, I’m sure, he speaks English.
And why isn’t the same criticism aimed at Toni Kroos? The German, too, doesn’t speak Spanishet nothing is ever said about the guy.
Run your heart out but don’t injure yourself
On the pitch, Bale is criticised for his lack of work ethic. He doesn’t run around like Isco and Marco Asensio so doesn’t deserve to start. The fact he’s still recovering from a serious injury and is perhaps cautious of spending longer on the sidelines is ignored. When Bale did this against Barcelona last season and broke down, he was foolish to try too much too soon. Where is the balance for those who are desperate to criticise him?
The biggest issue for Bale is that he needs his teammates to support him, help him shine more often in games. But when the people tasked with him helping Bale are after his place in the side, where’s the motivation? It’d be better to ignore the Welshman, marginalise him even more and force the coach to put someone else in. There’s a danger of cannibalism in Madrid’s squad, dog eat dog.
Do Bale’s teammates pass to him often enough?
When I watch Madrid play it feels like a lot of time Bale isn’t passed to, or his runs aren’t used. I found myself wondering if this was actually happening or I was simply focusing too much on things. Subconsciously, am I trying to protect Bale because he’s a fellow Brit abroad or is he getting the short end of the stick?
I wanted to see the passes and chances created for Cristiano Ronaldo compared to those for Bale. With Cristiano missing most of the current campaign via suspension, it only felt fair to judge the figures based on last season’s matches – and there’s an interesting pattern. Instead of it being Isco, or Asensio, who didn’t pass as often to Bale the main culprit was instead Karim Benzema.
According to Opta Isco averaged 5.43 completed passes to Bale every 90 minutes compared to 4.37 for Cristiano. Similarity, Asensio made 4.34 passes to the Welshman compared to 3.62 for Ronaldo. These are all per-90 minutes due to Ronaldo playing considerably more than Bale did last year. However with Benzema there’s a clear difference. He averaged 4.01 completed passes to Cristiano but only 2.69 to Bale.
Is that because Ronaldo is often closer to him? Or is he trying to squeeze Bale out of the game?
They create twice as many chances for Cristiano than Bale
Now I didn’t necessarily believe that Bale’s teammates weren’t passing to him, more when it came to creating chances for him to finish off. Benzema and Isco both created 16 chances each for Ronaldo compared to 3 each for Bale. Once again, due to Cristiano playing twice as much as Bale it’d only be fair to judge the numbers per 90 minutes. Isco created 1.13 chances for Ronaldo and 0.40 for Bale. Similiarly, Benzema created 0.86 chances for Ronaldo and 0.35 for Bale. Both are considerably lower for the Welshman.
Maybe there is something in the idea that Isco and Benzema would rather create chances for Ronaldo. Or maybe, you know, it’s simply because Ronaldo is further forward and as such will more likely be in a position to score? Either way it’s something to keep an eye on for this season and see whether a similar pattern emerges.
Although whatever happens the impression appears to be this is Bale’s last season in Spain. With the huge money available to Premier League sides, alongside the emergence of Asensio, there’s less reason for Madrid to play hard ball when it comes to Bale’s price. They know they can probably recoup what they paid for him. Bale’s time at Madrid is full of successes but there’s a strange, disappointing aftertaste to the whole experience.