Gareth Bale can be big for Real Madrid again... only if Cristiano Ronaldo pulls his weight

COMMENT: Ronaldo must work with the Welshman rather than against him

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Predictably they counted the passes. Gareth Bale received 40 against Juventus on Wednesday night, according to Marca’s calculations.

It was not specified where he received the ball or if 40 was high or low in a semi-final when the team was chasing the game and should have been feeding one of its most likely match-winners at every opportunity.

One of the biggest problems Bale has encountered this season is that Real Madrid have not treated him like the big match-winner he proved himself to be in his first year.

He has been asked to dig in defensively and track runners. Last season Real were the best counter-attacking team in the world; this year Bale can no longer hover on the halfway line for the early pass because when Madrid break he is 10 yards deeper, as Carlo Ancelotti plays him wide right in a 4-4-2 instead of in a front three.

The Italian coach, banned from the touchline for the next two games so likely to have sat in the home dugout at the Bernabeu for the last time, has had to shuffle his pack. Xabi Alonso – now of Bayern Munich – had been the counterweight in Real’s attack-oriented midfield, and the incredible energy levels of Angel Di Maria, who was sold to Manchester United last summer, added another defensive element.

With a more vulnerable midfield three, Madrid have had to clip the wings of one of their forwards, and Bale has been the player to make the sacrifice. It’s not a situation that can last into next season.

Carlo Ancelotti has employed a more defensive approach this season

Would he be tracking runners in a Manchester United shirt? No, because at Old Trafford he would be the team’s attacking focal point. If Real want to keep him, they have to use him that way. There was no need to pay £85m for a box-to-box wide midfielder.

Bale has still managed 13 goals and eight assists this season, and won the World Club Cup, scoring in the final.

The comments from his agent, Jonathan Barnett, last Sunday that he needs to be passed to more were a reflection of the player’s own frustration at being judged as the club’s record signing but not afforded the privileges due one.

Cristiano Ronaldo scores from the penalty spot

And this isn’t about the prima donna who does not want to run. It is a question of where he is being asked to run and to what end. He ran from the halfway line in the last minute of last season’s Copa del Rey final with the ball at his feet and scored the winner. There is no shortage of willingness.

Ultimately, Cristiano Ronaldo may have to give a little more if Bale is to be a long-term success in Spain. Behind closed doors at  the club’s Valdebebas training ground, he has been urged to do just that, but there has been little sign of it this season.

If Ronaldo works with him instead of against him, and if his shackles are removed, Bale believes he can become one of the world’s best. If he doesn’t do it at Madrid he will do it somewhere else – and there will be no shortage  of takers.