And so after almost five months it happened – a misplaced pass last Saturday against Granada and some muted whistles aimed at Gareth Bale.
Never mind the eight goals and seven assists in the league so far. Never mind the 10 goals in all competitions despite having played only nine full matches. Never mind three goals from free-kicks in only seven attempts.
Bale will have known from the day of his presentation, when there were 30,000 Real Madrid fans waiting for him inside the stadium, that this is a club where everything is exaggerated. One week you are the new Ferenc Puskas, the next week you are the new Forrest Gump.
Cristiano Ronaldo was whistled at times last season before supporters finally woke up to the stats that currently read 234 goals in 228 games. Luka Modric was dubbed “worst signing of the year” and then went on to score from 30 yards at Old Trafford to help send Real through against Manchester United in the Champions League, and is currently a player of the season candidate.
Some of the critics after Bale’s first-half performance on Saturday suggested he was “having trouble understanding how Madrid play”, as if Carlo Ancelotti’s team have perfected a sort of “total football” reinvention, when the reality is they are still hugely reliant on individual, rather than team, goals.
It is true that Ancelotti has Real trying to play more through midfield and that Bale would have had the ball played to him earlier under Jose Mourinho last season. It is also true that the 20-year-old Jese has performed well in his position, scoring against Espanyol in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday with Bale watching from the stands. And it is true that a player who needs excellent physical preparation did not have that in pre-season, and sometimes appears in training as if he is being held together by blue Kinesiology tape.
But Bale has always played in bursts – a devastating 15 minutes during a game that destroys a team or a run of 15 games that defines a season. Real are determined to harness that. There appears to be a deliberate policy of helping him avoid playing three games a week and the stop-start nature of his first season at the club has provoked the public impatience quietly audible on Saturday. Yet if the pressure starts affecting Bale, he only needs to look to one of his greatest supporters at the club.
Zinedine Zidane was whistled in his first season, 2001-02, after also arriving as the world’s most expensive player. He confided in team-mates that he was even considering walking away in those early months. He finished the season scoring one of the Champions League’s greatest ever goals to win Real Madrid their ninth European Cup.
Park the bus for Beckham’s seeds
After 14 years of driving galacticos around Spain, Real Madrid’s official coach driver Fernando Manso has parked his last bus. Sadly, there are no explosive memoirs but he has revealed that David Beckham used to send him out to buy sunflower seeds.
Manso told Marca: “We would buy them for him but he never paid us. Of course, we never said anything. One day I found a €5 note on Beckham’s seat. When I saw him I gave it to him and he just said: ‘Thanks very much’ and off he went.”
Beckham would surely have paid more attention had he realised the extent of Manso’s service to the players. Talking about some of his more dangerous journeys, he said: “The bus was stoned driving into La Coruña. They broke four windows and I remember some players threw themselves down on the floor. Another time rival fans threw a billiard ball at Beckham and it rebounded off part of the bus and hit me instead.”
Manso also tells of being told to slow down by Vicente del Bosque and having to give in to “modern music” over the years, with players’ CDs replacing his favourite radio station Kiss FM.
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