Everyone who ever signs for Real Madrid has at least to feign some deep-seated, long-held desire to do so. All try, most fail, Gareth Bale yesterday had the photos to prove it.
A gawky, smiling teenager wearing a 1998 Real Madrid shirt took pride of place on the “Gareth Bale stage”, and the forward spoke fondly of always wanting to play for the club.
The shirt worn by Bale dates back to when Real had just won their seventh European Cup and were beginning to smell the money that could be made from the famous white top and the companies who would pay to have their name on it. Yesterday, the 1998 sponsors, Teka, a domestic kitchen equipment company, had been replaced by Air Emirates and the boy wearing the shirt was Bale, now aged 24, and worth €91m (£78m) according to Real, more than €100m according to Tottenham.
Only in Spain, it seems, do supporters have such an appetite for the unveiling of new signings. Yesterday they filled the lower tiers of four sides of the ground undeterred by the fact that they could not actually see Bale presented as his specially erected stage faced towards the directors’ box and away from the pitch. Images were shown to supporters of him signing autographs outside the stadium. Whether or not he fits the bill on the pitch is irrelevant for now. He fits the bill off it. Sharp-suited, he looked straight out of a Madrid Mad Men yesterday and it is an image that will keep the Real marketing department happy.
His image is one of the reasons why he was targeted and other options, more difficult to present, such as Luis Suarez, were discarded. He will be signing a lot of autographs in a lot of different countries over the next six years. Real’s president, Florentino Perez, will make sure of that.
Yesterday, trying his best to ignore cries of “Don’t sell Ozil”, Perez welcomed Bale to what he called the temple of “Madridismo”. “He is an exceptional player, voted best player of the Premier League last season” he said, interrupted by chants of “Bale, Bale, Bale.” “He is finally here with us and we thank him for the efforts he has made this summer to make it happen. Gareth, the moment you dreamt about as a kid is finally here.”
Bale, listening on headphones, heard Perez remind everyone, as he always does, that Real were voted best club of the 20th century. It was fitting, therefore, that the new signing moved it forward by promising to try to deliver the club’s 10th European Cup in his first sentence.
He took to the pitch and, though the ball skills were not up to Neymar’s recent standards at Barcelona, his lap of the pitch was well appreciated by the 35,000 crowd. There were whispers of surprise when he picked up the balls left around the perimeter of the pitch and kicked them into the crowd. But nothing was going to ruin the day supporters had been waiting for since they were first informed that Bale was close to joining their club.
They reserved the biggest roar for his first attempt at Spanish. Back in 2003 David Beckham could only muster a “Hala Madrid” and hardly improved on that in the four years that followed. Bale wooed them with: “Es un sueno para me jugar en el Real Madrid [It’s a dream for me to play for Real Madrid]”. With that old photograph, he had proved that it was.