Gareth Bale at heart of Real Madrid quest for Champions League 'La Decima' after journey to acceptance

After a difficult beginning the Welshman has become a central part in Real Madrid's run to the final

When David Beckham went on his first Far Eastern tour with Real Madrid, he was told that his name was the most recognised foreign words in Japan after Coca-Cola. When Michael Owen was asked to justify his move to the Bernabeu, he mentioned the goal he scored in a 4-2 win over Barcelona. “Somebody told me that it was watched by a global audience of a billion,” he said later.

Glamour and profile come as standard at Real but neither Beckham nor Owen got anywhere near what Gareth Bale has already achieved in his first season in the Spanish capital; a European Cup final. The Beckham years were all about the brand – he won La Liga once and never made it past the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Bale could win it in his first season.

After the stunning 4-0 demolition of Bayern Munich in the semi-final second leg on Tuesday, the heaviest defeat Bayern’s coach, Pep Guardiola, has ever endured in European football, Bale was standing near the away dressing rooms of the Allianz Arena, wearing the same black suit, white shirt and black tie he had donned for his presentation after joining Real in September. He looked like a character from Mad Men rather than the most expensive footballer on the planet. Seven months ago, almost his first question had been about Real’s quest for their 10th European Cup, La Decima, and now it seemed very relevant.

“I was told all about it when I signed,” he said. “There has always been a lot of expectation at Real Madrid but there is enormous expectation surrounding that. We are happy to be there now, happy to have a chance of actually winning it. We cannot get carried away; we have to execute our game plan the way we did here.”

It has been a dozen years since Zinedine Zidane’s outrageous volley won Real their ninth European Cup against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow; years when the club spent more than £900m on players and got through 10 coaches. It has become an obsession, a craving that has to be satisfied in the final in Lisbon.

“Obviously, everyone in our dressing room was a little bit nervous. It is natural before a semi-final,” Bale said, although he did not have to point out that most of the Real players had lost three successive semis. “But we knew we had a game plan. It was massively important to get that first goal. It invited Bayern on to us and then we were able to take them on.

“It is a dream come true,” he added. “Not just for me but for everybody at Real Madrid. We played the perfect game against Bayern but we know we have one more hard team to go.”

A month ago, Bayern were being acclaimed as the best team in the world, the earliest ever winners of the Bundesliga, while Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo were being whistled by their own crowd during a  5-0 win over Rayo Vallecano.

With the rise of Atletico, Real could not even count themselves the best team in Madrid. A few days before, Bale had gone off the pitch for a minute and a half to change his boots and Seville had exploited the gap he left to score their second in a 2-1 win that, realistically, has wrecked Real’s chances of winning La Liga. John Toshack, Real’s two-time coach and the man who gave Bale his international debut, told Marca that the current manager, Carlo Ancelotti, should not talk to the player for a month.

Then came Bale’s astonishing goal against Barcelona in the final of the Copa del Rey and now the measured destruction of the European champions in their own stadium. The way Bale held off his marker, Jérôme Boateng, before making a gift of a third goal to Ronaldo in the Allianz Arena was an answer to the accusation  that he is at heart a selfish footballer.

Bale admitted he had been slow to settle at the Bernabeu. The struggle to leave Tottenham had been draining and had soured his relationship with the manager there, Andre Villas-Boas. He had spent the summer recovering from injury and no sooner had the £86m forward staged his first press conference than he returned to Wales for international duty.

“I didn’t realise how important a pre-season was until I came to Madrid,” he said. “It took a while for me to get going, which I think everyone understood but I was able to kick on after Christmas, get my fitness back and play well. I do think of the journey and I do think it is great to have come this far, but I also want to live in the here and now and not get carried away.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas