Gareth Bale seems to be running out of time at Real Madrid
After haggling down to the wire, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur announced that they had agreed on a fee for Gareth Bale on Aug. 30, 2013. The Wales international was Bernabeu-bound, and while he scored 22 goals in that first season, it was another summer signing that year who has proved to be the thorn in his side during his entire time at Real Madrid. It's always been said that the option is binary: either you play Isco or Bale and the two can't coexist.
The day after Bale's fee had been agreed, Isco scored two goals against Athletic Bilbao in a 3-1 win, which prompted Spanish newspaper Diario AS to run with the headline "Isco is the blessed one." The pair have been juking it out for a place in Real Madrid's starting lineup ever since.
Before Bale could lace up his boots as a Real Madrid player, Isco had scored three times and captivated the minds of Madridistas. It's that same fascination with the homegrown hero that continued to chip away at Bale's status and led to the current situation. Bale's position as one of Florentino Perez's favourites is changing while Isco, whose future at the club looked uncertain a couple of times, has kept himself within touching distance with his excellence and more importantly, his ability to stay fit.
It's a common misconception that the introvert is that way inclined because they are not entirely comfortable in themselves to be any other way; on the contrary, the introvert can be so confident that their lack of social flourishing is because they don't need affirmation of their status. For a long time, Bale was whistled endlessly by Real Madrid fans as they wanted more from their record signing: they wanted him to kiss the crest, cry when they lost, speak in Spanish and show that he cared. But Bale never heard those whistles and his aloof personality has nothing to do with his downfall with los Blancos. On the occasions when Bale did dazzle, his lack of Spanish and inability to connect with teammates was scarcely mentioned.
Bale's entire career has been based on what his body would permit him to do. And now, it seems, Real Madrid have grown tired of the precarious nature of the 28-year-old's fitness, with reports suggesting they have decided it is time to move on from someone they saw competing with and eventually overtaking Cristiano Ronaldo as the latter's star began to wane.
Ultimately, the speed and power that set Bale apart on so many occasions turned out to be the very thing that has hurt him. He has played just 35.5 percent of Real Madrid's minutes this season and that fragility has finally taken its toll. Bale's brilliance is not in doubt and never will be, but the 70-plus games he has missed since arriving in Madrid five years ago is a bridge too far for even his most ardent supporters in the Bernabeu boardroom. As a result, Bale's career in Spain is veering toward "what if?" territory.
Earlier in the season, Real Madrid couldn't figure out the root cause of their problems but the symptoms subsided as soon as Bale was on the field. Now though, Zidane has found the formula he likes and will likely continue with for the rest of this season. With the very real fear that the Wales star can't play multiple games or be counted on, Zidane has changed course. He remains wedded to the idea of Karim Benzema as his starting striker and the performance against Leganes didn't do much to help Bale either.
"Today, he couldn't score but he did many good things for everyone else," said Zidane about Benzema's contribution. "Playing with Isco behind him and with the work behind them of [Mateo] Kovacic, Casemiro, Lucas [Vazquez] and Marco Asensio, they came back to have a good game," he continued.
Just last month, Bale's agent Jonathan Barnett sent out a message that seemed unnecessary at the time but is telling as to how things have panned out. "He's worth at least €222 million, like Neymar," he said. It's possible either he or Bale could feel the tide turning at the Bernabeu and decided to be proactive about their situation in an effort to remind people of his worth. Based on his response after the Paris Saint-Germain game, you get the sense that Bale might be happy enough with a change of scenery too as he has grown weary of the mirage that is consistent fitness.
Every time Zidane, or whatever manager was in charge of Real Madrid at the time, named his starting XI, Bale and Isco went to battle but it seems while Bale so often won those battles, Isco is about to win the proverbial war. Bale's body has let him down and Real have grown tired of waiting for him to become the consistent starter they need and paid for.
Robbie is based in Madrid and is one of ESPN FC's Real Madrid bloggers. Twitter: @robbiejdunne