Bale's farewell season in Madrid could yet be his best

PETE JENSON: With Zinedine Zidane gone and his favourite coach Carlo Ancelotti back in the hotseat, Gareth Bale looks a man reborn at Real Madrid… he sees this season as his Bernabeu swansong and a starring role now beckons

  • Gareth Bale is preparing for his final season in Madrid after returning from loan 
  • The Welshman has one year remaining on his lucrative contract at the Bernabeu 
  • Madrid are tightening the purse strings and so now rely on Bale to perform 
  • The return of Carlo Ancelotti could yet see Bale’s swansong be his finest season 

Gareth Bale is happy with his life in Madrid and the club believe they will reap the dividends of that this season on the pitch.

Gone is the dread of going into the club’s Valdebebas training ground in the last days of his deteriorating relationship with Zinedine Zidane. 

The four-times Champions League winner couldn’t wait to get away at the start of last season but he is now so content with his lot that it’s not unthinkable that he could stay in Spain or at least spend a good portion of his time there after he leaves the club.

It is no coincidence that Gareth Bale is firing on all cylinders for Real Madrid again following the return of his first manager at the Bernabeu, Carlo Ancelotti

He will leave the club. That part of the equation is chiseled in stone. And in part that’s what looks like making this season as enjoyable as any of his recent campaigns – after a year away on loan this almost feels like a swansong.

It’s helping that things have come full circle in terms of coaches. He started at Real Madrid with Carlo Ancelotti and that looks like being the way things will finish for him.

No one should be surprised that he is playing well for the Italian coach, his finest days in the white shirt came with Ancelotti at the helm.

This season Bale is set to be Madrid’s main man along with veteran striker Karim Benzema

In his first season with Ancelotti as coach in 2013-14, he got 22 goals in 44 games. That included the run from the halfway line in the last minute of the Spanish Cup final against Barcelona. 

That season he also scored in the Champions League final – a header in extra time that put Real Madrid in front against Atletico Madrid for the first time on the night.

His second season under Ancelotti was special too. He played 48 times and scored 17 goals. The fact that after those first two seasons Bale, in the opinion many Madrid commentators, ‘still had to win the fans over’ explains a lot about why things turned sour in subsequent years.

If beating Barca with one the greatest goals scored in the club’s history and scoring what was effectively the winner in a Champions League final and averaging close to a goal every other game wasn’t enough for them, what ever would be? 

In order to fund a move for Kylian Mbappe next summer Madrid must rely on Bale this year

The Welshman is now freed of his deteriorating relationship with former boss Zinedine Zidane

Bale also managed 31 assists in those first two campaigns. Post-Ancelotti things went downhill under Zidane and it would have been very difficult for Bale to play out the final year of his contract in Spain had the Frenchman stayed.

Perhaps the most striking statistic from his first two seasons is the appearances one. Bale has never played as many games in one season as he did in the second campaign under Ancelotti. His awful injury record was not a feature of those first two seasons, and neither has it ever really been for Wales. 

Madrid fans scratch their heads when they see him powering through international tournaments playing three games in nine days without so much as a grimace. One of the key reasons is that Ancelotti has always allowed him far greater autonomy over how he manages himself physically. 

Bale knows best. He knows his own body and what it needs. Madrid’s former fitness coach Gregory Dupont was stunned in May 2020 when the Real Madrid players came back from the pandemic-induced lockdown and tests on the squad had Bale coming out on top for pretty much everything: speed, strength and resistance.

Bale thrives when being left to his own devices and training his body as he sees fit

Under Zidane, Bale liked to spend sessions the day after a game on his own doing gentle gym work but Zidane wanted everyone doing the same recovery session. It also irked Bale that there was never a sense of hierarchy with Zidane. 

His four Champions Leagues had not banked him any credit. He never expected a free pass into the team because of past successes but the ease with which Zidane now put young players in his place was striking. 

Things came to a head at the end of the 2019-20 season when Bale told Zidane he didn’t want to travel to Manchester for the delayed last-16 Champions League game because he knew Zidane had absolutely no intention of giving any game time. 

Acknowledging that as being the case, Zidane accepted his player’s request.

Ancelotti’s faith in experience and his nod to hierarchy is very different. It was notable on the opening day of the season last week that Bale, Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema started, with Vinicius and Rodrygo Goes coming on. 

Bale now knows he will be relied upon at Madrid and not snubbed for emerging young talents

The players expect that to be the norm for most of the start of this campaign and if it works Ancelotti will not waver.

This season Real Madrid will be playing back in front of their supporters but even this is not expected to be a problem for Bale. 

None of the club’s member are now not well aware of the club’s economic situation. Money has been made from the sales of Raphael Varane, the departure of Sergio Ramos and Martin Odegaard’s switch to Arsenal.

But the money is being banked for Kylian Mbappe. 

He won’t be coming until next season and so for now the hopes rest on Hazard having his best season yet, Benzema continuing where he left last season, Vinicius and Rodrygo improving, and Bale playing out what will be nine years in Spain, with a memorable farewell nine months.

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