Saturday’s La Liga Clasico did not go at all well for anybody at Real Madrid, including fish out of water galactico Gareth Bale.
To many observers, and perhaps even to Bale himself, his inability to influence the game as Barcelona strolled to a 4-0 win, was the latest evidence that his move to Spain has just not worked out.
But the complicated aftermath of the fixture means that Blancos president Florentino Perez may now be even less inclined to sell the Welshman.
Coincidentally, in the build-up to the game the €100 million summer 2013 signing from Tottenham had tried to explain to various UK media outlets how everything was going really well for him in Madrid.
The interviews went ahead on the understanding there would be no questions about a return to the Premier League. The very fact though that he was promoting an English TV channel’s Champions League coverage spoke to his continuing connection to ‘back home’. And reading between the lines there were times when he almost seemed to be sending out a ‘come and get me plea’.
Bale’s on the record quotes were the usual stuff about being happy where he is and Madrid being the “pinnacle of football teams”. He also spoke about enjoying the more “tactical” element of La Liga, and how he was happy now playing as a number 10.
However, he seemed much more animated when talking about loving watching Premier League games on his big screen TV, reasoning that other Madrid players wanting to practice their English on him made it difficult to improve his Spanish, revealing that his favourite dish at his favourite Madrid restaurant is egg and chips, and also talking an awful lot about his love for golf.
Unfortunate timing meant that these interviews were then printed alongside reports from Saturday's horror show Clasico. Bale was not the worst Madrid performer against Barca, but local fans and pundits understandably expect more from the world's most expensive player.
Despite being deployed by coach Rafa Benitez in the roving central position he now says is his preferred role, Bale managed only 41 touches of the ball over the 90 minutes [four less than Madrid keeper Keylor Navas]. He completed just 73.9% of his attempted passes [slightly more than Barca keeper Claudio Bravo’s 69.7%]. These are not the numbers of a central playmaker.
His numbers overall since joining Madrid look pretty good at first glance. In 100 games in total he has scored 41 goals, including vital strikes in the 2013 Copa del Rey and Champions League finals. Despite Spanish media suggestions to the contrary, he has generally been a willing on-pitch accomplice to Cristiano Ronaldo – as shown by his 32 assists to date. Regular injury issues, and irregular performances in big games, however mean he has yet to convince most Blancos pundits and fans.
Saturday's fifth Clasico was supposed to show that he was now established as the central member of the team's attack. Then the game just passed him by. There were loud whistles for Ronaldo during the second half of the game, but Bale's few interventions seemed to be mostly ignored by a crowd which had more important things to complain about. On Sunday morning, Marca’s cover said ‘The Bernabeu calls for Heads’ - and they were talking mostly about those of Cristiano, Rafa and Florentino.
Wily one-time politician Perez has quickly moved in the days after the game. At Monday evening’s snap press conference where he backed Benitez to stay in the job and build a new Madrid side. Meanwhile, there’s also been the usual leaks to favoured local reporters about Perez wanting to ship out some of his underperforming and troublemaking galacticos.
Selling an underwhelming Bale back to England for around the same price they paid for him might seem like an easy way to fund a squad overhaul. Manchester United have long seemed best placed to attract the now 26 year old, but Manchester City and Chelsea would also surely be interested in a player voted the Premier League’s best in his last year at Spurs.
However things do not really work like that at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Having invested so much of his personal standing in signing and promoting Bale, even naming the former Southampton left-back as a future Ballon D'Or winner, Florentino would have too much to lose if ‘his’ galactico is shunted out as a failure. Bale's name did not at all feature in Monday evening's long press conference – at which the futures of both Ronaldo and Karim Benzema were discussed.
Benitez has also a lot hanging on Bale sticking around as he looks to impose himself on the Bernabeu dressing room. While other stars including Ronaldo, Benzema, James Rodriguez and even club captain Sergio Ramos have all already publicly or privately crossed words with the extra-methodical coach, Bale has been the one big player to seem fully content with his gaffer.
With the dust not yet settled after Saturday's Clasico storm, it is too early yet to predict exactly what might happen. But even though Bale himself might be easily persuaded to head back homewards, and many Madrid fans would welcome his departure, Florentino and Rafa need him to stay.