Gareth Bale has been a lightning rod for Real Madrid fans over the last few years, constantly sparking debate on whether his play on the pitch is good, bad, or somewhere in between. It seems nobody can agree on the degree of contribution he provides to the club since he joined in 2013.
On one hand, Bale has scored a plethora of goals in all competitions, many of them critical. Most notably, he scored a stunning bicycle kick goal to win the Champions League last season, downing Liverpool in one jaw-dropping swoop. Just this past weekend, Bale bagged the penalty that gave Real Madrid a comeback win at Levante to avoid what would have been an embarrassing La Liga result.
Conversely, Bale is constantly a scapegoat for the lows the club faces throughout the year, with fans complaining that he has never truly meshed with the rest of the Spanish squad. To this point, those wishing to disparage his play on the field as a bigger issue Bale has with the squad had little proof to back up their argument. Now, some of those perceived character issues are beginning to spill out both on the field and in the dressing room.
On Sunday, after coming off the bench to score the winner from the spot, Bale did not celebrate his goal, actively shrugging off Lucas Vazquez to return the ball to the midway line for a restart of play. He acknowledged Nacho, Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane as they came to celebrate, but nothing more than a slap of hands.
That was the first real time Bale’s rumored introverted personality has spilled onto the pitch. Recently, players have begun to joke in the media about Bale’s poor relationship with the rest of the squad. Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, in an interview with Belgian publication HLN in early February, joked about Bale failing to join the rest of the squad for a late team dinner, saying it was past his bedtime. “The other night we had a dinner with the entire squad,” Courtois said. “But Bale and [Toni] Kroos did not turn up. They considered the dinner was too late at night. We had met up at 9:30 and started eating at 10:15. But Bale didn’t come. He told us he goes to bed at 11:00.”
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a professional athlete who adheres to a strict bedtime, that was a slight window into how the rest of the squad views Bale’s personality. More damaging has been Bale’s love for golf, which has given media critics plenty of ammo in recent months. Local tabloids jumped all over Bale when he arrived at Levante’s stadium watching golf on his phone, and there are rumblings that Bale has earned the dressing room nickname “the Golfer” which Courtois seemed to confirm in his interview.
“It’s very hard to describe Bale in one word,” Courtois said in his chat with HLN. That’s honestly the best way to describe the Welsh international, and the best way to describe the descriptions of him as well. The criticisms of the 29-year-old all seem to be wildly excessive in a vacuum, but put together, it’s easier to see why his lack of togetherness with the rest of the squad may contribute to his early exit from the Bernabeu despite his numerous on-field contributions during his stay in Spain.