Gareth Bale took centre stage as Real Madrid beat Liverpool to win their 13th European title last year.
The win was Madrid’s third in a row, and fourth in five years, with Bale playing a key role in all four of those triumphs.
He scored the crucial go-ahead goal in 2014, fired Real to the 2016 final with his deflected effort being the only goal of the semi-final, and came off the bench in Kiev to score twice and give Real the win, with his first being one of the greatest goals the competition has ever seen.
Yet, believe it or not, Bale is not happy at Real Madrid. Injury, managerial preference, a difficulty with the Spanish lifestyle have all been an issue.
The Welshman hasn’t played more than 2000 minutes in La Liga since 2014/15, a damning statistic. In the afterglow of his display in Kyiv, Bale was very candid about his situation in the Spanish capital.
“I need to be playing week in, week out and that hasn’t happened this season for one reason or another.
“I have to sit down in the summer and discuss my future with my agent and take it from there,” were Bale’s words after the full-time whistle.
Zinedine Zidane’s (initial) departure led many to expect that Bale would rise up and finally emerge from Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow to claim his status as the star of the side without a manager who didn’t trust him and a superstar blocking his path.
Instead, Bale has had his most underwhelming season yet, as he’s remained mostly fit but has been unable to cement his star status in the capital.
His troubles have been such that the Madrid fans are turning on him now; in a recent Clásico defeat to Barcelona last term he was withdrawn to a chorus of whistles from the Santiago Bernabeu. A humiliating incident which caused his agent to speak out against the club.
Barnett, Bale’s agent: "This generation of Real fans will be talking about Gareth's goals for years to come. Frankly they should be ashamed of themselves. Gareth deserves the greatest of respect. The way the Real fans have treated Gareth is nothing short of a disgrace”.
— Arancha Rodríguez (@AranchaMOBILE) March 4, 2019
It now seems highly likely that Bale will leave Real Madrid this summer, especially after Zidane revealed that Real are currently working on his transfer to a new team.
He stated: “We hope he leaves soon. It would be best for everyone. We are working on his transfer to a new team. I have nothing personal against him, but there comes a time where things are done because they must be done.”
This comes as no surprise given the duo do not appear to have the best of relationships. After all, Bale admitted that he had not even exchanged words with the Frenchman since scoring his stunning Champions League final goal against Liverpool prior to Zidane’s Second Coming.
Speaking in February, Bale said: “He didn’t talk to me about it – I still haven’t spoken to him since.” That must have been an awkward exchange at the training ground when the Frenchman returned a month later.
It’s fair to say the two haven’t seen eye to eye in recent times, so where could Bale end up next?
Dream: Tottenham Hotspur
They say you should never go home, but nobody tells Gareth Bale what to do except Gareth Bale. And whilst he was forged in Southampton, and has conquered the world in Madrid, it was Spurs where he learned how to become a man and the place he would most likely see as ‘home’, leaving only because his individual ambition exceeded the club’s capabilities.
But that’s no longer the case. Spurs have reached the Champions League in each of the previous three seasons, culminating in a final appearance last term. This isn’t a fluke anymore. They have a brilliant manager in Mauricio Pochettino, a world-class striker in Harry Kane and some of the best talent of any side in the Premier League. All they need is another elite player, a superstar, to help lift them to the next level of actually winning trophies.
And who better for that than Gareth Bale? Four Champions Leagues in five years, one Copa del Rey, one La Liga title. The kid knows how to lead a side to victory, he’s done it enough times for Los Blancos before his current woes began.
Imagine him returning home a proven winner, taking that No 11 shirt back (sorry Erik) and rediscovering his best form whilst simultaneously lifting the entire Spurs squad up to the elite level their new stadium would demand? It’d be magic. It’d also be a dream because there’s no way Daniel Levy would ever countenance paying the transfer fee Madrid would demand, much less the wages Bale would command.
Realistic: Manchester United
This is the one, right? It seems inevitable, in many ways. United have been trying to sign Gareth Bale since he was an elven-looking, spiky-haired youngster but for one reason or another the moves never materialised. They’ve tried repeatedly to take him from Madrid, but he’s never been interested. Now, however? Now you can see him jumping at the chance.
For United, this move is a no-brainer. First of all Bale is an absolute icon and a marketing dream should recover anything like his best form. That alone would make him an attractive prospect for Manchester United who long to have globally-recognised superstars wear their famous red shirt. Bale would go up alongside Pogba as one of the faces of the club.
On the pitch it’s a wicked fit, how could it not be? Bale plays hard and fast and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has proven that United are at their best when they play hard and fast. The Premier League is physical, so is Bale. United need a right-winger, and Bale is a right-winger. He’d play every game of consequence if he was fit and get the full superstar treatment he’s never had at Madrid.
Imagine him flying on that right-wing, sending in crosses for Romelu Lukaku? Or leading a devastating counter-attack alongside Marcus Rashford? Or cutting infield to blast the ball at goal with that Mjolnir of a left foot? It’d be pure mayhem for opponents.
The finances make sense too. United have more money than sense. They could easily afford whatever mad fee Madrid would ask, the same for wages. And he’d be adored by the fans in a way he never has been at Madrid. The only issue would be convincing Anthony Martial to move shirt numbers again. But besides that, it’s ideal. To go to the club of Ryan Giggs, take Ryan Giggs’ shirt number, and then become the biggest player in the Premier League? Perfect fit.
Wildcard: Paris Saint-Germain
When it comes to Gareth Bale leaving Real Madrid, the main problem is that his reputation is still so enormous that there’s only a handful of places he could actually go. And not all of them make sense. But PSG? PSG don’t make sense in a way that makes a whole load of sense.
Think about it.
PSG are clearly moving away from Edinson Cavani as their attacking focal point and shifting Kylian Mbappé to being their main goalscorer. This means he moves into a central role, so who fills his spot on the right? Sure, Di Maria is there now, but as good as he is the reason he got shunted out of Real Madrid in the first place was because of his lack of superstar status.
Bale would bring that in spades. He’d also be a huge shot in the arm for PSG’s image in the English-speaking world (which right now is mostly talking about farmers and financial fair play). He’d fit in with PSG’s easygoing dressing room culture and would have a boatload of fun in a lightning quick attack alongside Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. It’d work, but it’s a wildcard because PSG’s focus appears to be elsewhere this summer (also because UEFA appear to be more committed to enforcing FFP these days).
But, should Neymar seal his seemingly preferential move back to Barcelona, then the Parisians will have some serious funds to play around with this summer, and that could prove the decisive factor in whether the Welshman pitches up at the Parc des Princes.
Squawka Suggests: Napoli
Gareth Bale’s two best seasons in Madrid were his first two, playing under Carlo Ancelotti. Well, Ancelotti is now manager of Napoli, and a reunion between the two could be incredibly prosperous.
The move would give Bale another country to conquer, which is something you sense he really wants right now, and it would provide him with the opportunity to join a massive club with a rabid fanbase who would absolutely worship him.
On the pitch, Bale would surely be the lightning bolt of quality that would lift Napoli to the point where they could overcome Juventus and win Serie A. Sure, Napoli may sell some stars this summer but imagine Bale playing on the right of their front three with Lorenzo Insigne or José Callejón on the left.
It’d be lethal, no matter who was up front. King Carlo would bring a genuine bonafide superstar to the south of Italy to rip Serie A to shreds. Also; Bale vs. Cristiano at the top of Serie A? Can you spell box office? This is the move to make, Gareth!