The Last Word: Magical goal proves Gareth Bale is the Real deal
On Wednesday, after six months in Spain, the extraordinarily ordinary Welshman arrived
Saturday 01 March 2014
He received the pass five yards from the right-hand corner of the penalty area, and pushed his left foot through the ball to drive away from two opponents. His next touch opened up his body and enabled him to fake a shot, which committed the covering centre-back.
He chopped the ball on to his right side, kept his hips facing the far post to maintain his shooting options, and moved away from two more opponents by transferring the ball back to his left foot. He saw the goalkeeper braced, with knees bent, arms extended and palms facing him, but offered no clue about his intentions.
Perfectly balanced despite the pressure of limited space and time, he pushed the ball forward with his right foot and anticipated the full-back’s intended tackle. He cut across the ball, shooting with the outside of his left boot. It arrowed inside the near post before the goalkeeper could move.
It took Gareth Bale eight touches and five seconds to score the most significant goal of his career, the first of the two he contributed to Real Madrid’s 6-1 Champions’ League win in Schalke’s Veltins Arena on Wednesday night. Marca, the Spanish sports daily that can make or break galacticos, hailed it as a “work of art, magical skill”. After six months in Spain, he had arrived.
The Welshman will be centre stage in today’s Madrid derby against Atletico, potentially the pivotal fixture of La Liga’s season. The BBC – Real’s attacking triumvirate of Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo – demands the attention of a global audience. The crowning achievement of La Decima, Real’s 10th European Cup win, is tantalisingly close.
Bale’s initial goal in Gelsen- kirchen, one of 14 since his world-record £86 million transfer from Tottenham, is worth describing in detail; not just for its beauty and impact, nor for its fusion of skill and instinct, but because it is a fantasy made flesh. Every park plodder and schoolboy schemer has dreamed of doing something similar.
It is a reminder that, in an era of relentless negativity, football retains the ability to inspire and captivate. Bale’s development in exile has barely created a ripple here, where attention has been dominated by the tragi-comedy of Manchester United’s decline, the absurd posturing of assorted foreign owners and the disturbing ambiguities of the Nicolas Anelka case.
Such relative indifference to his successful adaptation to the world’s most demanding club is strange, but revealing. There is none of David Beckham’s celebrity baggage. Bale may match Wayne Rooney’s basic weekly salary of £300,000, but there is no sense of ostentation or resentment at his good fortune. He remains extraordinarily ordinary.
There is no shortage of raw material for a football parable. Bale, remember, is the boy spotted by chance, playing in a five-a-side match for Cardiff Civil Service FC. He survived a one-match trial to become an apprentice at Southampton and persevered through a 24-match, 1,533-minute wait for his first win for Tottenham.
He kicked a ball around with his father, Frank, a school caretaker who became a painter and decorator because it offered greater scope to ferry his son from Cardiff to Southampton’s satellite centre in Bath. His mother, Debbie, balances his father’s disciplinarian approach; they are as far removed as possible from the parental ogres who tend to be created by football’s star system.
Their son does not drink, has never smoked and is the antithesis of the modern tattoo-encrusted dilettante. When he wore a pair of magnetic earrings as a prank, the withering response of his father – “I swear I thought he was going to kill me” – stayed with him.
Bale has done everything right. Real are unbeaten in 27 matches, his Spanish is improving and he defers to Ronaldo’s cult of personality. His only affectation, the copyrighted love-heart goal celebration, is irritating, but he has earned our indulgence.
Concern as Trott gets back in swim
Breathless reports suggest Jonathan Trott is “raring to go” in advance of his comeback with Warwickshire next month. He has retained his international ambitions, despite England’s uncanny ability to invent new ways to lose.
Any right-minded observer would wish Trott well in his recovery from the stress-related illness which necessitated his early departure from this winter’s Ashes tour. But the nature of his affliction ensures it must not be underestimated.
Sport at the highest level is an artificial existence. Emotions are exaggerated and attention is unrelenting. The rituals of perfecting and sustaining natural talent are rigorous, and militate against the development of a balanced character.
England cricketer Jonathan Trott Should those closest to Trott require a sobering perspective, they need only examine the plight of the three greatest Australian swimmers of the modern era, multiple Olympic champions who have gone into meltdown.
Ian Thorpe is undergoing treatment for depression after being discovered disorientated and distressed. Grant Hackett, found wandering shirtless and confused in a Melbourne hotel, has entered rehab in the US. Kieren Perkins, at his lowest, was so depressed he refused to get out of bed.
The black dog has sharp teeth.
Thousands of so-called football fans have signed an e-petition calling for Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley to be banned from England’s World Cup squad for “not possessing any genuine qualities”. Thousands of so-called football fans should get a life.
Latest in Sport
Raheem Sterling to Manchester City: Winger to report for Liverpool training on Monday but Reds braced for third City bid this week
Women's World Cup 2015: England secure third place as they beat Germany in extra time with penalty by Fara Williams
Angel Di Maria and Marcos Rojo could miss Manchester United's crucial Champions League play-off due to Copa America run
PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
Nick Kyrgios fans show their support by smearing Vegemite and Nutella on their faces amid Wimbledon run
- 1 BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
- 2 Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
- 3 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
- 4 The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
- 5 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget