After a slow start and a lot of anticipation, Gareth Bale is starting to impress at Real Madrid. Adam Bate looks at some of the challenges the Welshman has had to overcome in the Spanish capital.
By Adam Bate and Matt O'Brien
Last Updated: 25/01/14 8:25am
It seems perverse to talk of adversity when discussing a millionaire footballer in the prime of his career. But Gareth Bale's world record transfer to Real Madrid was fraught with difficulty. An expectant public sceptical about the exit of a former hero and the usual risks that come with any move abroad. Would he adapt? Could he impress? Here, we look at just some of the challenges and how Bale has overcome them...
Winning friends and influencing people
Attitude is everything when moving to another country. "It is very daunting and you feel very much on the periphery," former Real Madrid star Steve McManaman told Sky Sports. "But you have to go through those times, you want to learn from them and you want to be involved. Sometimes you just have to sit and have a beer with them even if you don't understand them."
Bale's new team-mates could have been forgiven for expecting a diva to arrive at the training ground. But the 24-year-old's down-to-earth approach has worked in his favour. "Bale didn't have a lot of problems, because he is a humble man, not very demanding," Real coach Carlo Ancelotti recently told the Financial Times. "He doesn't want too much. He is starting to speak. My job is to help him be comfortable on the pitch, comfortable with team-mates."
Coping with not being the main man
Despite the fee involved, there is no doubting that anyone operating at Real Madrid must do so in the shadow of reigning Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. It is noticeable that Bale is no longer the go-to pass for his team-mates as he was at Tottenham Hotspur. He is making an average of 30.4 passes per 90 minutes at Real, down from 34.8 passes per 90 minutes at Spurs - a surprising statistics given that Los Che play far more passes as a team than the North London side.
What is important is that receiving less service has not affected his productivity. In fact, it has improved dramatically. After scoring a goal every 139 minutes for Spurs in the Premier League, he is currently netting every 110 minutes for Real. Then there are the assists. He created just four goals for Tottenham's team-mates but has seven La Liga assists already - more than any Real Madrid player. Not only is Bale coping, he is thriving.
Dealing with the pressure of 'replacing' Ozil
Bale's success is all the more remarkable given that there were question marks over whether his arrival would disrupt the balance at the Bernabeu. Given that he was not a direct replacement stylistically for Mesut Ozil, who was shipped out to Arsenal, there were fears that the change could damage the supply line to Ronaldo. That has emphatically proven to be incorrect.
Ronaldo has scored 21 goals in 19 league games so far this season, together with an amazing tally of nine UEFA Champions League goals in just five appearances. Real Madrid as a team are the top scorers in Spain and the form team in La Liga. Tellingly, while Ozil was named in Ronaldo's top three for his Ballon d'Or vote, Bale was one of the two players he rated above him.
Getting Ronaldo onside
It seems Ronaldo has warmed to the idea of playing alongside the man who appears to have conspicuously modelled his game on the Portuguese star. "Gareth is doing an incredible job," Ronaldo recently told reporters. "He had a tough start, amongst other things because he suffered a small injury which ruled him out of several games. Plus, the pressure at Real Madrid is huge. But he is on the right track now and we are helping him."
And he's not even been at full fitness...
As Ronaldo suggests, dealing with the pressure of life at Real is tricky at the best of times given the weight of expectation but for Bale to have to cope with that situation while not fully fit must have been particularly problematic. Although he netted on debut against Villarreal, his involvement that day in September appears to owe more to obligations than the rigours of medical testing. Being thrown in for his next start away to Barcelona in an unfamiliar forward role was also less than ideal.
But since the end of October when Bale scored twice in a 7-3 win over Sevilla - a match in which Ancelotti hailed the arrival of "the real Gareth" - the winger has scored nine goals in 12 Real Madrid appearances. He even snaffled some free-kick action last time out against Real Betis - his third such strike of the season. For a player so reliant on his strength, stamina and speed, a fully fit Gareth Bale could be set to really make his mark in the second half of the season.