The Last Word: Magical goal proves Gareth Bale is the Real deal

On Wednesday, after six months in Spain, the extraordinarily ordinary Welshman arrived

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 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.

Not Clever

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.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released the first teaser trailer a week early after it leaked online

Extras
indybest
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
News
i100
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?