Bale and Ronaldo

Before we get into anything football-related, please could I momentarily cheerlead for the fine tradition of looking to your RIGHT before stepping into a road, lest you wish to experience the brain-shuddering thud of a cyclist, riding a hunk of metal and wearing a solid helmet, thudding into your vulnerable cranium. Oxford being nice to look at and all there are a fair few tourists who are probably used to looking the other way, but still. She nearly had her morning ruined.

Last night’s semi-final was completely engrossing, I thought. I know I’m enjoying myself watching a game when half-time comes around far too quickly, and by the time 70 minutes roll by I feel like a child who’s been asked to go bed before I wanted to. A few things I noticed were: Carloz Tevez is quite good, Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were unbelievably harsh on James Rodriguez for hitting the bar with that header (that cross was launched at him andhe  had about 0.05 seconds to even get his head on it) and Gareth Bale looked like he’d rather be anywhere else.

I haven’t been particularly sold on the idea of Bale at United of late, but considering what he’s been through over there the compassionate side of me wouldn’t mind rescuing him. As a player all he wanted to do was test himself at a club far better than anywhere than the Premiership had to offer (in exchange for a lot of money of course, but I genuinely doubt that was the main motivation). As far as I’m aware it wasn’t Bale that blew the price up to £80 million or so, and it’s not Bale’s fault that the Real fans seem to use his transfer fee as a reason to berate him at every opportunity.

It must be a strange experience playing – or even managing – Real Madrid, where there appears, to an outsider at least, to be absolutely no affection between fans and players. Bale is seemingly nothing to the Real fans at the moment; an expensive, preening ball-hog who takes heat for not passing to Ronaldo enough. It’s astonishing to me that the masses attacking Bale haven’t considered that the selfish streak may well come from a burning desire to perform, to impress, to justify the hype created by the very fans who may well test his patience for the bear pit.

Then again, he knew this was coming, and much has been written in the past about Bale’s strength of character. Wales manager Chris Coleman, who previously managed at Real Sociedad, said in March that he thought Bale could deal with the pressure at the Bernabeu:

“I know how it works in Spain,” he said at the time. “Winning, and not playing well, is not acceptable. They lost to Schalke but went through, and they were booed off. As much as they’re saying he’s not been caught up in that, he has definitely been caught in the middle unfortunately for him.”

Coleman went on to say he thought Bale would get through it, and perhaps he will if he gives himself another season. But against Juventus last night he displayed an almost steadfast refusal to take players on, preferring instead to cut back and whip in crosses from the right hand side. Bale rips people apart by running at pace, beating men with graceful balance and control, not doing an Ashley Young c. 2013-14. As much as we need to strengthen in other areas, could we really say no to a fully confident, aggressive Gareth Bale? Probably not.

There’s little doubt that what we’ve lacked in the past few seasons, arguably since Ronaldo and left and Giggs started winding down, and what Angel di Maria has thusfar failed to provide, is a flair player who can tear into sides. At his peak at Spurs there were few sights in football more thrilling than Bale’s electrifying duel-threat of speed and control, often finished off with a striking technique gleamed from his more popular strike partner. It’s tough to envisage a scenario whereby if Bale was to arrive, United fans wouldn’t take to him. Bale, though not fully fit, is timid at Real at the moment. Would he be the same with a little more support?

It isn’t looking likely at the moment though. As of today the player’s Mr 15% came out fighting against the hordes who criticised Bale and insisted he’d be staying put. Apparently Bale wants to stick it out and if that’s the case, it says something about the players’s strength of character considering some clowns who actually worked for the club he plays for attacked his car earlier year. If and when he tires of that kind of nonsense, it would probably be worth United getting the wallet out.