07/28/19 10:00am ET UPDATE: Or maybe it’s not imminent. What a mess.
Real Madrid and Gareth Bale just finished one of the most eventful preseason tours of all time.
While many teams struggle to capture the attention of even their most passionate fans during July exhibition games, Madridistas were hit with one big news story after another over the last seven days.
It all culminated late Friday afternoon (Eastern), when reports from Spain indicated Gareth Bale is headed to the Chinese Super League. If Marca (among others) is to be believed, by the end of the day Saturday, Bale will be the newest member of Chinese Super League club Jiangsu Suning, who will reportedly pay him €22M ($24.5M) per year for the next three seasons.
Before reflecting on a fittingly strange conclusion to the former Tottenham star’s “disappointing” (we’ll examine whether that’s the best way to describe his RM tenure later), stint in the Spanish capital, here’s a look back at the past seven days:
The wild week that was
- Saturday: Bale is surprisingly benched for his team’s game against Bayern Munich in Houston. It’s not the first time Zinedine Zidane has benched Bale, but his comments after – “The club is working on his departure and that’s why he didn’t play” – turned heads. Zidane added, “Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, that it happens soon.” Bale’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, was quick to respond: “Zidane is a disgrace to speak like that about someone who has done so much for Real.”
- Tuesday: Bale starts the friendly against Arsenal on the bench, but comes on for the second half and scores in the 56th minute. Later in the match, Real Madrid winger Marco Asensio suffers a torn ACL, meaning he’ll miss most of the season. Could that injury change Zidane’s mind on whether he needs Bale? (Spoiler alert: not even a little bit).
- Friday: Spanish media claim a deal with Jiangsu Suning is imminent. Later that evening, Real Madrid gets absolutely shredded by crosstown rival Atlético Madrid. Los Rojiblancos score twice in the first eight minutes en route to a 7-3 blowout. Bale comes on in the 62nd for what seems like his RM swan song.
While a last-minute surprise can’t be ruled out, for the purposes of this piece, let’s say last night was Bale’s final appearance in a Real Madrid uniform. Because I’ve always gotten my Bale coverage from the Spanish press, I’ve been convinced Bale’s time with RM has been a letdown. But the stats beg to differ.
No shortage of productivity
In six seasons with Real Madrid, Bale started 133 LaLiga matches and scored 78 goals.
He also helped the club win an absurd four Champions League trophies in his six seasons. While Cristiano Ronaldo led those teams, it’s not like Bale failed to deliver on the biggest stage: the Welshman scored three (!) goals in UCL finals – only Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and CR7 have scored more. Two of those (in ’14 vs. Atlético and in ’18 vs. Liverpool) were game-winners. The list of his accomplishments goes on, but for most players, two UCL-clinching strikes would make them immortal, regardless of how much they contributed otherwise.
So why the apparent enmity?
Because he didn’t make much of an effort to learn Spanish? Because he wasn’t Ronaldo? Because his last season was arguably the worst, for both him and his club?
I phrased the possible answers as questions because it’s a tough call.
This year was his worst statistically since he became “Gareth Bale.” However, his overall production — especially when considering he played with space-gobbling CR7 all but one of those RM years — almost any player in the world would envy.
Yes, the expectations were sky-high because he was the most expensive signing ever before the ’13-14 season. But the complaints were often about him being uncommitted rather than overpriced.
Was he the most durable player in Europe? Not at all. But the grief he got for his “frailty” was excessive for a player who missed 72 games due to injury over six seasons. This conversation could drag on and on, but I’ll call his bad rep among many Los Blancos fans head-scratching and move on.
About last night
Speaking of head-scratching, what a statement by Atleti at MetLife Stadium last night. I’ll start by acknowledging that this was a friendly. Regardless of the stakes, though, that was a brutal beatdown.
Star signing João Félix offered a glimpse at what all the fuss was about, and Diego Costa scored a ridiculous four goals. He also earned a late red card for scuffling with Dani Carvajal to cap a quintessential Costa evening. So much for Costa quietly exiting stage left ahead of the upcoming season.
As for Real Madrid, despite the game being meaningless, it’s hard not to come away from that effort extremely concerned about the upcoming season. Giving up seven goals to anyone, no matter the setting, is problematic, especially considering all the defensive issues a year ago.
It is worth nothing, I guess, that the biggest offseason addition to solve the problems in front of the goal, Ferland Mendy, did not play last night due to a thigh injury.
Regardless, 7-3 is a pounding. RM has some work to do before La Liga begins on August 16th.