Three months ago, on a warm September afternoon, Gareth Bale was presented to the Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabeu following his 91-million-euro transfer from Tottenham Hotspur.
While most of the 60,000 or so people in the stadium sung his name, some fans could be heard singing the name of Mesut Ozil, the playmaker who had recently departed to Spurs’ north London rivals Arsenal. Some Los Blancos fans had doubts about Bale’s signing.
And members of the press and football fans not connected with Real Madrid said the Welshman’s signing was merely a statement of financial power by Florentino Perez. Marketing purposes more than anything else. And also to show Barcelona, who had signed Brazilian wonderkid Neymar just weeks before for 60 million euros, who is really still top dog in Spain.
Debate went on in the media, and many pundits concluded the Catalan giants had done the best business, that Neymar would be better than Bale.
The early weeks of the season suggested they may be right. While Neymar started forming decent understandings with his Blaugrana team mates, Bale was left waiting in the treatment room at Real Madrid.
The Welshman got off to a difficult start to life in the Spanish capital. He had missed much of pre-season with Tottenham due to a foot injury. Following his protracted switch to the nine-time European Cup winners, his bad luck with injuries continued. Despite a goalscoring debut away at Villarreal, Bale suffered a thigh injury that would halt his integration into Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
He was raced back to fitness in time for the first Clasico of the season at the Nou Camp. The first real moment we could compare Neymar and Bale. And the afternoon that October day couldn’t have been more contrasting. The Brazilian gave the hosts the lead with a wonderful curled effort from inside the box. When he was finally removed in the 87th minute, the Nou Camp gave him a standing ovation.
Bale, meanwhile, was victim to Ancelotti’s odd tactics, and was played in the middle of the front three. Clearly not match fit, and unfamiliar with the role, his only contribution was a long range effort that sailed over the bar. He was taken off on the hour mark.
Fast forward a few weeks and the the situation has been reversed. Bale scored for Real Madrid against Juventus in the Champions League, he scored against Sevilla, and has provided team mates with many assists. He has formed a third of the the deadly BBC trio, the nickname given to the front three of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano by the Spanish press. In all, Bale has scored nine times in 13 appearances, and provided a further six assists. Without a doubt, his highlight so far has been the ‘perfect’ hat trick – left foot, right foot, header – against Valladolid at the weekend.
Neymar, although he has nine assists, has scored just five goals in 19 appearances for the Catalan giants. With Messi out injured for six weeks or so, much was expected of the new kid on the block. But since the Argentinean genius picked up his injury, Neymar has failed to score. Barcelona have lost their last two matches and look out of sorts. For 60 million, now is the time for Neymar to step up.
It may be a cliche, but a season is a marathon, not a sprint. While Neymar went racing out of the blocks, Bale is starting to show just why Madrid shelled out so much for him.