Gareth Bale stole the show as Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 in the 2018 Champions League final, but in the four years since the Welsh winger has seen his career come to a crashing halt
In May 2018, Gareth Bale was on top of the world.
The Welshman bagged a brace – and the Man of the Match award to boot – as he sensationally fired Real Madrid to yet another Champions League crown in a 3-1 win over Liverpool. With two swings of his lethal left foot – the first a stunning overhead effort and the second a speculative long-ranger which Loris Karius inexplicably spilled – Bale all but assured his legend status with the side from the Spanish capital.
Fast-forward four years, and as the two great European giants prepare to face off for the continent’s most prestigious club prize once again, the wing wizard is but a peripheral figure. A “parasite” according to some. But where did it all go wrong?
Following his Kiev heroics, Bale enjoyed a fine individual season under Julen Lopetegui, who replaced Zinedine Zidane following his Champions League triumph after the Frenchman insisted the club “need a change”. However, with Cristiano Ronaldo having followed Zidane out of the door, moving to Juventus in that same summer, Real Madrid subsequently struggled thereafter.
The poor run of form saw Lopetegui sacked and Zidane swiftly re-hired come March 2019. But something was amiss between the reinstated Real Madrid manager and his once beloved Bale.
In July, former Tottenham winger was on the verge of sealing a mega-money move to Chinese club Jiangsu Suning, only for Los Blancos to pull the plug at the last minute. Bale expressed his anger at being denied the switch, while Zidane dismissed claims the Welshman had ever asserted his intentions to depart.
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Zidane guided Real Madrid back to winning ways as the Spanish side scooped the La Liga title in the 2019-20 season, however Bale would make a mere 16 appearances during the campaign. A fruitful spell back at Spurs for the 2020-21 season followed as a rejuvenated Bale struck 16 times in 34 appearances, but upon the expiry of the loan deal, the four-time Champions league winner would head back to the Spanish capital. And that’s where he would stay to this day.
With a move away failing to materialize last summer, Bale settled back in Spain, seemingly content with collecting his hefty wage packet and seeing out the remainder of his contract. While Bale appeared satisfied with his situation, it’s fair to say the Spanish media were less impressed.
Marca offered up a particularly scathing assessment of their former hero, branding Bale a “parasite” while accusing the 32-year-old of “sucking Real Madrid’s Euros”. It was criticism which saw Bale respond to in writing before aiming a particularly passionate celebration in the Spanish outlet’s direction following a stunning double while on international duty with Wales.
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The player’s agent has since confirmed his turbulent Real Madrid career will come to an end upon the expiry of his contract this summer, but there’s still time for a final swansong. The last time Real Madrid met Liverpool, Bale stole the headlines and he may well have the opportunity to do so once again when the pair meet in Paris on Saturday night.
After ongoing back spasms denied Bale the chance to say his goodbyes in Real Madrid’s final La Liga match of the season, Los Blancos manager Carlo Ancelotti left the door open for the Welshman to make history by equalling Ronaldo’s record of playing in five Champions League finals.
The Italian said: “Bale wanted to say goodbye and play tonight if he was fine. He has one last chance as he will be fine for the final.”
It remains to be seen whether Ancelotti will afford Bale the opportunity to feature in this Saturday’s Champions League final as the Welshman bids to help the Spanish giants to a 15th trophy during his stint. If he were to score a miraculous winner, it would be a fitting farewell.