From Leper to Superstar: The Resurrection of Gareth Bale

For the second time in its history, Wales is playing the finals of a European football championship. And again Gareth Bale’s team is one of the surprises of the tournament. For the captain in particular, this is a success – which many no longer thought he could.

Gareth Bale did not look so happy and satisfied for a long time. The Welsh national team and their captain had won 2-0 (0-0) against Turkey, and the round of 16 at the European Football Championship seems inevitable. “If we had been offered four points after two games before the tournament, we would definitely have accepted it,” said the 31-year-old, who prepared the goals for Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts: “Now we have a fantastic starting position that we have fought really hard for us. “

Wales had already amazed in 2016, had reached the semi-finals sensationally and completely unexpectedly at the European Championships in France. Bale had been the team’s top scorer with three goals at the time. However, many no longer believed that he would show outstanding performances in the national jersey five years later. Because especially for the recent past it was rather symbolic what the sprint strong offensive player fabricated in the 61st minute from the penalty spot.

Instead of making the decisive 2-0 early, Bale chased the ball far over the goal, which at least in Germany triggered some associations with the legendary miss of Uli Hoeneß in the 1976 European Championship final in the night sky of Belgrade. Now, 45 years later in Baku, Bale also sent the ball on a journey that ended far off the goal net. Had the game been lost after that, the criticism of the Welsh captain would have grown immeasurably.

He runs away from the defensive

It would have been the sad continuation of the decline that the once most expensive footballer in the world has seen. Instead of becoming a legend at Real Madrid, he was accused around the traditional club of sometimes preferring to play golf than football. In the meantime, there was talk of a lack of integration message, after all, Bale still didn’t speak a word of Spanish even after years in Madrid, and instead prefers to fly to Wales to work on his handicap. At Real, when he wasn’t injured, he spent little time on the field, but all the more on the bench and grandstand. And when it was used, there was little to be seen of the speed and liveliness that had otherwise distinguished it.

And the missed shot was “not a nice feeling”, stated Bale, but it was also “completely irrelevant”. Which is not a sign of indifference, but an expression of the fact that even such a serious mistake played no role in view of his outstanding performance. “Gareth really showed character. Everyone makes mistakes, but he came to terms with them and was the man of the game,” said team manager Robert Page. This says a lot about “him as a person. He wears the armband for a reason.”

The 30,000 or so spectators in the Azerbaijani capital, the majority of whom had actually wanted to celebrate a Turkish victory, applauded at the end. Because Bale repeatedly opened spaces for his teammates with passes in depth, dropped into the central midfield and orchestrated the Welsh offensive game. When the Turkish defensive reacted, the 31-year-old moved on to the wing and it looks as if the jersey of the “Dragons”, the nickname for the selection of the country with three million inhabitants, has a (re-) vitalizing effect on Bale .

What’s next?

Because in Madrid he was still one of the top earners, but he had long since lost its sporting relevance. Even a move to China was under discussion, in a league that offers big salaries, but is meaningless in terms of sport. After the Corona interruption in spring 2020, Bale was finally left out and because there was no agreement on a final transfer, the attacker loaned himself back to where he once became a star in September: Tottenham Hotspur.

But he could hardly fulfill his high hopes. Although he was in the squad in 30 Premier League games, he was only ten times in the starting line-up, ten times he stayed on the bench for the full 90 minutes, and in no game did he see the kick-off and the final whistle on the field. Eleven goals this season are a good record, table position seven and the qualification for the qualification for the third-class Europa Conference League but remained below the claims of the Spurs.

With performances like those against Turkey, however, Bale is recommended for new tasks. Even if there is always a little fear that he can reproduce it without the Welsh coat of arms on his chest. Whether he will really return to Real Madrid is open. Los Blancos have brought back Carlo Ancelotti, who won the Champions League there in 2014 with Bale as a top performer. The Welshman is still keeping a low profile and announced in early June that he would not reveal his future plans until after the tournament. Until then, all that counts is the European Championship, which the selection of Wales seems to be doing exceptionally well this time as it did when they participated for the first time in 2016.