Liverpool FC: Christmas Crack Me Up Challenge
Initially, Gareth Bale and Real Madrid looked to be the perfect match. Los Merengues won ‘La Decima’ – their 10th European Cup – in the Welshman’s first season at the club, with the former Spurs attacker scoring the winning goal in the 2013/14 final against Atletico Madrid. That should have been enough to secure Bale’s place in Real Madrid folklore.
Since then, he has gone to lift the Champions League twice more with the Spanish side, making another final this season. Only Liverpool stand between Bale and a fourth European title in just five years in the Spanish capital. Meanwhile, the winger has scored 70 goals in 126 appearances in the process, finding the net in finals and several editions of ‘El Clásico‘. All this illustrates an impressive return for the then world record £86 million paid to Spurs back in the summer of 2013.
And yet Bale has never been truly embraced by the Real Madrid support. His every touch of the ball is consistently whistled at the Santiago Bernabéu, his name used as a scapegoat when things are going against the side. Speculation has clouded the future of Bale for quite some time now, but finally it seems feasible that he could finally leave Spain this summer.
There will be no shortage of suitors, with a return to the Premier League reportedly on the cards. Manchester United are thought to be long-time admirers of Bale, missing out on the Welshman’s signature five years ago as he swapped Spurs for Spain. The Red Devils are the 2/1 favourites to sign the attacker this summer. Tottenham have also been linked with a return for their former winger, with Chelsea also a potential destination.
But before a possible parting of the ways this summer, Bale could still define another Champions League final. Until a few weeks ago, the Welshman had been a peripheral figure at the Santiago Bernabeu. It seemed highly unlikely that he would be in the running to face Liverpool in Kiev this weekend, with the likes of Marco Asensio, Isco and Lucas Vázquez ahead of him in the pecking order.
Goals in his last four La Liga appearances have entered Bale into the discussion for a starting spot, though. There’s a certain balance to Real Madrid with the Welshman on the field. Against Villarreal on Saturday, Zinedine Zidane used Bale as a central striker alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, with Isco in behind. That could provide a model for Saturday’s final.
Whatever happens this weekend, Bale can look back at his time at Real Madrid as an unmitigated success. “This is history,” he said in an interview this week. “I came to this great club to win titles and it is going to be a special day. I never imagined playing in so many finals. I have played in three and this could be a fourth win, it has blown any expectations I had out of the water.” But with a career crossroads looming, Bale could still decide one last big game.