It was meant to be the main event, instead it was just the prelude but Real Madrid still did their best to make the most of going live in prime-time Asia and the Far East with a 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao, albeit minus new signing Gareth Bale.
The Bale factor was added several hours later when the club finally announced the signing of the Tottenham forward on a six-year contract. Florentino Perez had wanted his new signing to make his first competitive appearance as a Madrid player in Sunday’s game. Now it will probably come in a Wales shirt.
Today he will be presented at the Santiago Bernabeu; on Sunday’s showing he is a signing the club have no great need for on the pitch.
With two goals from Isco and a Cristiano Ronaldo header – his 202nd goal in as many games for the club –there appears to be no striking deficiency.
Former Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric was outstanding in midfield while Angel Di Maria also impressed. Mesut Ozil watched the game from the bench and will today look for a late exit from the club – if there is no place for him prior to Bale’s arrival then things will only get more difficult on 11 September when the Welshman joins up with his new team-mates for the first time.
Real Madrid president Perez had been given the lunchtime kick-off by the Spanish League, on the last Sunday of the transfer window, with everyone expecting Real’s new signing to be on display. Perez sees Bale as the man to help promote Real Madrid and La Liga in Asia and the Far East and coinciding his debut with the club’s first 12pm local-time kick-off of the season would have been the perfect way to launch the club’s new image in the English-speaking market still largely untapped by Spanish football.
Real Madrid played their first midday game against Osasuna two seasons ago and estimated a television audience of around 60 million viewers in China alone.
The estimates were later found to have been exaggerated but with seven channels airing the game in China they had still taken a sizeable share of the national audience. And Sunday’s game, kicking off at 7pm in Beijing, at 8pm in Tokyo and Seoul, and at 4.30pm in India, would have eclipsed that had it been Bale’s first game.
Domestic demand is on the slide due to Spain’s wider economic problems with both major broadcasters losing subscribers and the global market is now being prioritised by Spanish clubs. There will be other opportunities.
Madrid are open to the idea of playing Bale’s first Clasico at midday when Real face Barcelona on 27 October. The game usually attracts a global audience of 400m viewers and will have extra appeal as Bale and Ronaldo face Neymar and Leo Messi for the first time.
Real Madrid’s sponsors Fly Emirates are also keen for the club to play a one-off friendly in Dubai in January 2014 during La Liga’s mid-winter break.
Former Real Madrid club captain Raul, former coach Arrigo Sacchi and Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino have all called Bale’s £86m price tag into question. Yesterday the Fly Emirates, Adidas and Visit Spain tourism campaign publicity was in evidence. All that was missing was the new signing.
In his absence Isco got the first for Real Madrid from a Benzema chip, Ronaldo headed in the second before Isco made it three. “He looks as if he has been playing in Madrid for years,” said Carlo Ancelotti after the game of the former Malaga midfielder.
He also praised Di Maria and said he understood why Ozil was unhappy about being left out of the side. Bale comes into a team where competition is high and eyebrows will be raised if he plays ahead of others who have contributed to Real’s 100 per cent start.
“He is a game-changing player,” said Raul recently of Bale. On this evidence Real Madrid do not want for game changers. But Bale is British and one-up for La Liga in their eternal battle with the Premier League for fans on the other side of the world.