Shape up AND ship out: Why Gareth Bale should move to Manchester United
The European media is a brutal taskmaster. The summer transfer window feeds them the fuel they'll pour on the stalwarts that cost an arm and a leg and put them under fire if they land even a foot wrong. But there are reasons why someone would break the bank and make all that money look like it fell from the trees. Because when push comes to shove, the fire won't burn the elite thanks to their unequivocal quality and a head that belongs to the poles. A certain Welshman by the name of Gareth Bale is a paragon of the very same.
Born to Debbie and Frank Bale in the city of Cardiff, life came a full circle for Gareth when he lifted his 3rd Champions League crown with Los Blancos earlier this year in the same city.
But what now?
Is that young, unbridled and beastly talent that saw him rip apart Premier League and La Liga defenses going to stay complacent in the shadows? Or is he going to break the shackles, cut the ties that bind and leave Bernabeu for good and bid for the crown?
Let's rewind to the day of one of the greatest comebacks in the game championed by Barcelona in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain at the Nou Camp last year. Finding themselves needing to net 3 goals in 28 minutes following a 62nd minute Edinson Cavani goal, the Catalans could have given up. But they wouldn't.
Neymar would then go on to part the sea, win a penalty, score 2 goals and lay out an assist which helped La Blaugrana send the stands going postal when they had nothing to even be buoyant about at the start of the day.
Neymar had done the unthinkable. Yet, one of the most iconic sports photos taken on the day looks like this:
Just take a couple of seconds and look at that photo.
Now think of Neymar Jr. The boy bust his lungs, won a penalty which Messi converted, made Kevin Trapp stay rooted to the spot with an absolute screamer of a free kick, converted another penalty with the world breathing down his neck and finally looped a majestic ball into the 6 yard box for Sergio Roberto to send it home to seal the greatest Champions League comeback of maybe all time. And then this photograph makes front page across the globe.
You won't see Neymar in that photo. You won't see him because he is standing on the ground, probably somewhere around Messi where the floodlights cast the King's shadow. And as such, that man's meed never came to him.
Kings and ministers, heroes and second fiddles, the messiahs and the messengers... Sure, every great epic must have had them and we have celebrated them. But the ethos of the times is such that self-importance has obliterated the buttresses. And trust me, it is not a bad thing.
Why do we deem Neymar greedy for the PSG move? Why is wanting to break out of the shadow of Messi a bad thing? Why is PSG's new money patronized when Barcelona's profligacy is celebrated? Why, Gary Lineker, why should a move away from Barcelona be a step back? If the turbulent waves of good fortune carry PSG to Champions League triumph and you find Neymar at the center of it, what would you say then?
The Neymar-Bale connect
Neymar has proved in the absence of Messi that he could have been the perfect heir to the throne. But how long were they going to make him wait? He could have hit his peak, scored 50 goals in a season and would still end up being the cute sidekick you adore because the king smiles in his company. So he departed. But of course, the price tag has to get the spotlight. Never Neymar.
Now to the man of the hour- Gareth Bale. Let's start on the same page by accepting that Madrid fans, as a whole, suffer from the short fuse syndrome. Sky high expectations are part and parcel of entitlement. I mean, booing Cristiano Ronaldo on his rare off-day, seriously? They make him actually miss the warmth of Old Trafford.
United's drawn-out yet unrequited interest in Bale is a testament to the sheer class he exudes. The sort-of ability that can propel a side to triumph all by itself. The kind that is, unfortunately for Bale, available in excess at Santiago Bernabeu. But put a price tag on it and you can buy for yourself half a squad worth of match-winning talent.
Remember when the fax fiasco made De Gea stay at United? When he returned to Trafford as the team's no.1, the Theatre of Dreams thundered passionately:
"DAVID DE GEA! DAVID DE GEA!"
For a club whose supporters are thrashed for being glory hunters, the Red Devils have proved to be a humble bunch when compared to the bullies of Europe. They were grateful that this great goalkeeper is actually staying with them, albeit not entirely because he wants to.
In stark contrast, Bale would get the moshpit treatment every time he ran on to the field in a Madrid kit.
Oh, that's just a tap-in.
Yeah, he scores brilliant goals against smaller teams.
Give him space and he is a menace. But without it, well...
Sure, injuries have crumbled his ascendancy to the absolute zenith but when are we going to hold a funeral for the tap-in debate? Nobody gets dropped to the spot by God to extend their foot so they get gifted a goal. Right place at the right time is a concept that is an entire world harder than it is made out to be.
Flat-track bully? Let's forgive them for bringing cricketing locution to the footballing ground. But hey, 3 points are 3 points.
There is absolutely no doubt that Bale is a big-game player. He has scored in the Champions League final, FIFA Club World Cup final, Copa Del Rey Final. He assisted Ronaldo for their first goal in the UEFA Super Cup match against Sevilla in 2014. In the 2015-16 Champions League final, Bale created the chance that saw Madrid score their lone goal of the final.
Remember Bale wiping Bartra off the map and Usain-bolt-ing to wrap up an El Clasico Copa del Rey triumph? Oh, nothing too remarkable because Bartra wasn't at his best and was fresh out of a hospice. And we all know what Bale can do when he's afforded that kind of space. So what's the big deal anyway?
Fine. But would credit be given to Bale when he started making room in cramped spaces? When he started being delicate with his feet and all of a sudden 2 players coming on to him was being dealt with subtle panache, was he patted on the back? Perhaps he was. His contributions are certainly not overlooked but they are dallied with.
Bale, who singlehandedly wrecked Inter's right wing with 3 shots at the end of 3 majestic runs that caressed the inner side of the far corner netting for Tottenham, found himself in Madrid a couple of years later playing down the right flank.
At Spurs, he flourished playing freely down the center and occasionally on the right after initially rising up through the ranks from a left-back position. Benitez was forced to give him his time at the center before swiftly making him the general of the right wing. No complaints made. Weeks of verbal battery for being unfit.
No complaints. Constantly linked with a move away from Bernabeu every summer for not being the absolute best? No complaints. Score in the Champions League final and become kings of Europe and yet be looked at as expendable? No complaints. Getting booed and battered for going for goal and not making a pass to Cristiano Ronaldo. Not flustered. Why? Just because that's the kind of lad Gareth is.
There is no space for a voyage to the middle-east for an exotic party in Bale's itinerary when given some time off. Just a pint of beer and golf with his mates would do for him. No straight faced robot talk in post match interviews, just a weary smile silently screaming, I don't really wanna be here, mate.
Bale is a champion with his head in the right place. He comes with the kind of power packed in his quads that can send any fullback shuddering as a ball gets floated to his wing. When he goes on a rampaging run and drives a ball as swift as an arrow across the box, the opposition will wish they had faster legs and a set of lungs to spare.
Wales made it to the semi-finals of the 2016 Euro Cup and Bale was at the center of it all. Wales coach Chris Coleman admires Bale's personality off the pitch and credits much of the team's success at the Euro to Bale's humility and leadership.
Now to address the elephant in the room and though it is no secret, let's just quote the wise words of a venerable veteran. Johnny Giles had once famously said that for Bale to achieve the greatness he is capable off, he will need to get out of Ronaldo's shadow.
Think about it. He scored 22 goals and amassed 16 assists in his debut season after having missed out on a major chunk of the first half of the season due to injuries. How many players have the ability to pull off something like that in a team whose ranks are fuelled by the elite? Uh uh, match found- Neymar.
But now in Isco and Asensio, Madrid have players who could perhaps lay a claim for being the very best in the future and Los Blancos are in awe. So much so that the prospective arrival of an 18-year-old Mbappe from the proceeds of a Bale departure is exciting to them.
Being at Madrid and in Ronaldo's shadow has, intermittently, helped Bale. Elsewhere, Bale would have to shoulder the weight of an entire team. His plight would even be similar to that of Aguero's at City if not worse. The fact that Madrid goes on largely unhindered by Bale's absence owing to his streak of injuries has given him some leeway.
But how long do you keep that potential wrapped in a quilt and cheer him on on those big days? It is definitely a gamble but it is one that Gareth Bale should take if he is to have a shot at being the very best in the business.
To reach a port you must sail
So come off, Gareth, mate. Come back home to the Premier League. In the league where a minor coming into can ruffle your stuff like an uppercut to the cranium, show them who's the boss. Start talking to Jose, maybe?
Jose's United project is as promising as any that Bale could herald. The presence of Pogba, Mkhitaryan, Lukaku, and Mata combined with the promise of the likes of Martial, Rashford and Eric Bailly will conjure up an exciting environment for Bale to burgeon in.
In the stands of Old Trafford, Bale will find the hopeful bunch of the United faithful who get behind their players and charge them on even on their weakest days. Of course, they too are an expectant lot but they make sure that the love is there to see and hire a bag of inspiration out of.
Financially, this will not be too daunting a task for Ed Woodward to pull off seeing as Madrid is open to the idea of offloading Bale. He wouldn't have cost a fortune if he wasn't one himself.
Maybe, injuries will further cripple his chances of being the very best in the world but at Madrid, he wouldn't even possibly get the minutes to serve up the delicacies he can offer anymore. Asensio needs his time because he is the future Madridstas are already carrying on their shoulders and he needs his time now.
And of course, Perez wants to make his annual statement and wants Mbappe's name in it written in bold. How thoroughly heartbreaking would it be then to see one of the world's best players spending half his time warming the bench at the Bernabeu?
Bale is 28-years-old and he is not getting any younger. Top 5 will just not be justice enough for the powerhouse that Gareth Bale is. Whether it's Chelsea or Manchester United, the Welshman needs to move.
Life has currently thrown two ropes to Bale's career. One of those ropes has its other end at England and looks real sturdy. The other one leads nowhere and at its near-end is a Madrid future in the shape of a noose.