Just hours on from Real Madrid’s decision to part ways with manager Rafael Benitez and replace him with Zinedine Zidane, rumors started to gather pace about what personnel will be make up the Frenchman’s side at the Santiago Bernabeu. Intriguingly, various reports suggested the man who has arguably been Los Blancos’ standout player this term, Gareth Bale, may need some convincing to stick around despite the new boss being revered as one of the great footballers of this generation.
The Welshman, who endured a very difficult second season as a Madrid player after a stellar debut campaign, has been back to his trailblazing best this term. Benitez, despite what many perceived as major flaws and an overindulgence in pragmatism, was vital to Bale’s reinvigoration, and according to Rory Smith of the Times, the forward is “considering his future” in the Spanish capital after the decision to give the former Liverpool boss the chop.
For fans of the Premier League, Bale returning would only be a positive. Not only is the former Tottenham Hotspur man proven in English soccer’s top flight but he’s made major improvements since leaving White Hart Lane, and he would return as a player who has scored superb winning goals in the finals of the Champions League and Copa del Rey. But from Real Madrid’s point of view, it’s important an emboldened Bale remains at the crux of the team under Zidane.
Despite the previously cited reports, it’s too early to say what kind of principles Zidane will seek to instill at the Santiago Bernabeu. The former midfielder has never actually managed at the very top level of the game, after all, with his most significant post being his previous role in charge of Castilla.
Nevertheless, a new manager will inevitably have fresh preferences when it comes to playing style and personnel. But given the progress made this term, Bale shouldn’t have his role inhibited by Zidane . If anything, he should be handed even more responsibility.
Indeed, so far this season the 26-year-old has nine goals and eight assists in La Liga and Champions League games, having started just 14 games in total. Benitez typically stationed him in a central position behind the striker, and Bale has blossomed. It’s the same role in which he showcased his best form for Spurs prior to his record-breaking move.
Bale’s influence has been much greater this term. He still puts in those blistering surges that help Real move through the gears, and his trademark long-range shooting remains a major attacking weapon. But there have been clear improvements under Benitez which have helped many Madridistas forget the Welshman’s struggles in 2014-15, when he was roundly jeered by sections of the support.
In the air he’s a huge threat. In general play, too, Bale has shown much more quality on the ball, is more decisive on the counter-attack and willing to track back for the team; the latter quality is not something which can be said for the rest of the Galacticos which make up this squad.
Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo remains the main man at Real Madrid and even in a season which many have claimed to be one of disappointment for the Portuguese sensation, he has a very credible 25 goals and eight assists in La Liga and Champions League matches. But Bale has been this team’s driving force as of late.
Ronaldo is a formidable player to have in front of goal and remains the game’s finest natural goalscorer. But he’s no longer the player who carries this team forward, transitioning through phases and committing opposition defenders with his direct running. That’s a mantle which has been passed to Bale. And while Ronaldo will naturally continue to be accommodated — as he should be, given his ruthlessness inside the penalty area — it’d be a shame to see the recent progress of Bale go to waste under a new regime.
If the Frenchman’s coaching style is befitting of his playing style, Zidane may opt for more technical talents, meaning the likes of Isco and James Rodriguez could be handed more prominent roles in the side. However, in his unveiling as Real Madrid boss, the former midfielder described Bale’s position in the squad as “fundamental,” per ESPN.
You wouldn’t expect anything else at this point from the new boss, and it’ll be intriguing to see what tweaks are made when Real welcome an impressive Deportivo La Coruna team to the Bernabeu for his first game in charge on Saturday. But any marginalization of Bale, who has proven beyond doubt that he has the talent and temperament to shine for a team like Los Blancos, would be a major shame, for the player as well as his illustrious soccer team.
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