Gareth Bale finally arrived at Real Madrid yesterday and declared that the man whose world transfer record he had broken was “still the boss”.
Cristiano Ronaldo now finds Bale on his shoulder in Real Madrid’s pay structure and ahead of him in terms of the money paid to bring him to the club. But Bale called his new team-mate “the best player in the world”.
“He is one of the major reasons why I have signed,” said Bale. “He was a massive factor in joining and, hopefully, we can win trophies together.”
Asked if he had come to “help” Ronaldo, Bale said: “He doesn’t need my help. He is already at the top and I am looking forward to playing alongside him and learning from him.”
In terms of player presentations Ronaldo will have seen how Bale’s “opening ceremony” at the Bernabeu drew a smaller crowd than the 80,000 that turned up for his in 2009. But he will also have noticed how Bale has been accepted instantly by Real supporters, who sang his name as he did a lap of the stadium kicking footballs into a crowd of around 35,000. “I was nervous,” he admitted, “I think you could see that with my first couple of attempts at keeping the ball up.”
When asked what will happen when Madrid get their first free-kick on the edge of the area and he and Ronaldo are left standing over the ball, he said: “I will have to ask him.”
It was deference all the way, and not just to Ronaldo but to Real’s past glories. Bale admitted his first memory of the club was watching Zinedine Zidane score the winning goal in the 2002 Champions League final. “I was just about old enough to be watching those big games. I have always followed Spanish football,” he said describing Real as “the world’s greatest club”.
Zidane publicly pushed Madrid’s pursuit of Bale but the player also suggested other Real players had played their part. “I have kept in touch with Luka [Modric],” he said, denying that Ryan Giggs had tried to convince him to move to Manchester United.
Bale said he was made aware that the deal had finally been closed on Sunday and thanked the Real president, Florentino Perez, for “making his dream come true.”
Perez had talked about the efforts Bale had made to make the transfer happen. The two sides seemed to have been working closely together since the end of June when Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett met with Madrid’s director general, Jose Angel Sanchez, to thrash out what club sources have always referred to as a “plan of action”.
That involved Bale playing only one game for Spurs in pre-season, meaning he joins his new club lacking in match fitness. Things might have been different had it not been for the Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, making sure Real had to fight for the right to take another of his players after the sale of Modric last year.
Bale admitted having been frustrated by Levy’s delay in releasing him. “It’s been a difficult time,” he said. “Everyone knows that he [Levy] is a hard businessman. He wanted to do well for Tottenham and he has improved their squad.
“It is not ideal that I have not had a lot of game time. But I am hoping to be involved against Villarreal.”
His Real debut will come on 14 September away from home at El Madrigal and he will then make his first home appearance against Getafe in a Madrid derby. Today he joins up with Wales and will not report for his first day of training with his new team-mates until a week next Wednesday.
There was more love for Andre Villas-Boas than for Levy. The Portuguese coach had built his Spurs team around Bale last season and, when asked about the coach he leaves behind at Tottenham, the player said: “He was a massive influence on me; he helped me a lot last year and it was difficult to leave Spurs. I hope he will take them into the Champions League.”
Bale’s focus is now on helping Real Madrid win their 10th European Cup. Having gone 11 years without reaching a final and failing to get past the last 16 for five seasons before Jose Mourinho turned up in 2010, there is lost ground to be made up.
He will now be part of a team that on paper, and despite the sale of Mesut Özil , looks to be the favourite in this year’s competition.
However, Bale naively seemed to think he would now have to fight his way into the team. “Every player here is world-class. I know that I can’t just come in and walk straight into the starting eleven. But there is a lot more to come from me,” he said.
It seems unthinkable that Bale will find himself anywhere other than in the starting line-up after Real’s astronomical outlay. Perez warned: “This is a club with a history full of legendary players playing with sacrifice and bravery, talent and respect. Our players need to be conscious of that and should offer all those things to the supporters.”
He will also be hoping to sell plenty of Bale shirts – the €96 (£82) No 11s were selling steadily yesterday.
The Real deal? Other Brits at the Bernabeu
* Five British players featured for Real Madrid before the First World War, mainly a legacy of their second longest-serving manager Arthur Johnson, who first arrived as a striker in 1902. In the modern era, another five have worn the famous all-white kit.
Laurie Cunningham (1979-84)
Joined from West Bromwich Albion for £950,000 in 1979, winning a league and cup double in his first season and losing against Liverpool in a European Cup final.
Steve McManaman (1999-2003)
Signed from Liverpool on a free transfer, McManaman helped the club to two Champions League titles – the first Englishman to win the competition with a foreign club.
David Beckham (2003-07)
Signed from Manchester United for £33m, Beckham won the La Liga title and the Spanish Super Cup in a five-year stay.
Jonathan Woodgate (2004-07)
A surprise signing from Newcastle for £13.4m, the England defender scored an own goal and was sent off on his debut and spent most of his time on the treatment table.
Michael Owen (2004-05)
Forward whose spell in the Spanish capital was short-lived but he still managed a return of 13 goals from just 20 starts in La Liga.