Should Real Madrid look to sell Gareth Bale?
Analysing Gareth Bale's future at Real Madrid, his performances for them and potential replacements in case he is sold.
When Gareth Frank Bale transferred to the world’s biggest club in the summer of 2013 for a record-shattering transfer fee, both fans and the player himself must have thought his destiny was to lead Real Madrid’s frontline for years to come. His first season went some way towards fulfilling that destiny with the Welshman scoring crucial goals in the finals of the Copa del Rey as well as the Champions League.
While he also scored in extra time of the Champions League final to break the deadlock, his goal in the Copa del Rey final was a wonder strike as he raced past Marc Bartra and slotted it into Barcelona’s goal to score the winner. Both those moments highlighted what a wonderful first season it was for him. He had been a key figure in Madrid’s Champions League winning run with only Cristiano Ronaldo directly involved in more goals than him.
Bale scored six and assisted a further four as Madrid finally looked to have ended their “Galactico” curse by winning La Decima. Along with Ronaldo and Benzema, he was touted as part of Europe’s most potent attacking unit (BBC), one not seen since the days of Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto’o.
But the arrival of Luis Suarez has comprehensively tilted the equation back in the favour of the Catalans. The front three of the treble winners scored an incredible 122 goals in all competitions combined, leaving BBC far behind. Even though Suarez had a curtailed season and had effectively only played two-thirds of the season, he managed to score 25 goals in total, outscoring both Bale and Benzema.
Although Ronaldo did have another stellar season by his own lofty personal standards, his support cast – Bale and Benzema had underwhelming seasons and have failed to adequately complement the Portuguese international – the way Neymar and Suarez have done with Messi.
Bale’s season looked like a shadow of his first one as problems with fitness and form troubled him for the majority of the season. He finished 12th in the La Liga scoring charts and 10th in the assists table, not nearly good enough for the world’s most expensive footballer.
Bale struggled to make an impact last season
The Welshman was mercilessly booed and heckled by his own fans, becoming an increasingly obvious target for their vitriol as the season went on. It all came to a head after Real barely scraped past Schalke 5-4 on aggregate in the first knockout round of the Champions League, losing 3-4 to the German side on the night in front of their own fans.
Bale and former captain and legend Casillas were the target of the supporters’ ire. This came two months after Bale was booed for not passing the ball to Ronaldo and opting to shoot instead. Although Casillas has left the club, Bale’s future is uncertain.
He cut a forlorn figure many times in last season’s campaign, amidst some indifferent form, especially in key Champions League matches – indicative of the capital club’s disappointing and, in truth, poor season. Although his pace has not deserted him, at times it seemed like he was running into blind alleys, missing easy passes and crosses at key junctures, opting to shoot instead, albeit with poor accuracy.
Madrid went trophyless, and Bale’s cause was not helped by the arrival of James Rodriguez, the Colombian quickly endearing himself to the fans and proving to be one of the few bright spots in an otherwise mediocre campaign by Real’s lofty standards. Meanwhile, the talented Isco keeps knocking on the door of the starting line-up and it is only a matter of time before new coach Rafa Benitez decides to give the young Spaniard an extended run in the Liga.
Should Bale be sold?
Carlo Ancelotti and Casillas have been made scapegoats for last season’s failures, and Benzema continues to be linked with a move away from Madrid. So is Bale any different? Apart from the fact that he commanded a record transfer fee, the answer is a resounding ‘no’.
Los Blancos have shown their ruthlessness before, and they have shown that they are willing to upgrade the squad and win trophies one way or the other. Di Maria, Man of the Match in that successful Champions League final, was shipped out less than three months after the final.
The answer is ‘maybe’. The fact remains that Bale is still young and will still command a sizeable transfer fee. Real will be able to recoup most of their outlay on the ex-Spurs player, which only adds credence to the argument that the Welshman should be moved on. United have shown an interest and as with all world-class players these days, PSG are also in the mix.
More importantly, from Real’s point of view, this money can be well-spent on acquiring a player of a similar or a higher calibre. Although Barca’s front three are firmly in that bracket, the market outside that seems bleak. Real would have to shell out a lot for a player with a proven ability and at least 3-4 years of consistency and scoring experience behind him.
Potential candidates to replace Bale
Madrid will need something special to catch up to the holy triumvirate of Barca’s, and will look to get in a proven goalscorer and a wrecker-of-defences. A quick glance across Europe tells us that Robben and Ribery are past 30, injury-prone and in Robben’s case, not going back to Madrid.
Antoine Griezmann, who has just joined Atletico, will probably not leave one year into his stint and especially for their Madrid rivals. Kevin De Bruyne, who had an excellent season with Wolfsburg and is a €60 million target for City, will need to have more than one good campaign to impress the Real hierarchy and Sterling has already moved to Manchester City.
Alexander Lacazette, who can play on the left side of an attacking three and scorer of 27 goals in France’s Ligue 1 last season, will need to be prolific once again this season for Real to even consider him.
That leaves us with two potentially outstanding candidates.
Eden Hazard has just signed a new long-term contract and both he and his manager seem committed to the Chelsea cause. The Belgian was in superb form for his club last season, especially in the second half as he carried a flagging side across the finishing line on his shoulders and in style. Add this to the fact that Mourinho has personal history with both Madrid and Benitez, and Real would need something in the region of €100 million, another world-record fee, to sway Roman Abramovich's hand.
That leaves us with the last but most likely candidate.
Marco Reus very much, a central figure at Dortmund these days, has been tasked with leading a line that once boasted the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze. The club struggled badly last season in his absence through injury and barely made it into the final Europa League spot in 7th. Reus himself made only 18 starts in the Bundesliga and even though he has publicly declared his devotion to his boyhood club Dortmund multiple times, the thought of another such season could force him to re-think.
Dortmund are very likely to play hardball and refuse to sell, instead letting Reus’ contract run down. But they could be forced to sell if the player himself pushes for the move. From a financial point of view, anything that Madrid would have to offer in terms of wages and contractual fees would blow Dortmund’s corresponding offer out of the water. With greater financial muscle and the aura of the “world’s biggest club”, Dortmund wouldn’t be the first ones to fall victim to Real’s meaty pull nor will they be the last.
Reus would line up on the left side of a front three alongside Benzema and Ronaldo in a 4-3-3 formation. Since he can also play anywhere across the front three, he could be slotted in on the right in order to accommodate Ronaldo take up a central striking role in a move which would probably see Benzema dropped to the bench and Isco deployed on the left. Reus would indeed Madrid a range of options as Reus has also been used as a make-shift striker by club and country in the near past.
The Barca train shows no signs of slowing down this season. Real could be forced to cut their losses in order to catch this runaway train before the Catalan club go on another trophy-laden run like the Guardiola era. Luis Enrique seems to be more well-rounded than his predecessors, having sufficiently strengthened the defence, something other Barcelona managers in the recent past had failed to do adequately.
If Bale does stay, he will need to justify his price tag and his wages not just to a new manager, but also to a hungrier set of supporters and teammates. This will be Bale’s third season and “settling in” will be a term simply not accepted among the upper echelons at the Bernabeu. Whatever happens, it promises to be an interesting summer at Real and in particular, for the world’s most expensive footballer.