“Gareth Bale has just become a superstar!”
Those were the words of England legend Gary Lineker as soon as the Real Madrid winger scored one of the best goals anywhere in Europe this season.
Gareth Bale has just become a superstar!— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) April 16, 2014
And it was not against a weak team either. Barcelona were the opponents, the Copa del Rey final was the occasion and the Mestalla in Valencia was the venue. It was the 85th minute and the Wales international’s strike proved to be the winner.
It was indeed a truly exceptional strike, some would say even Roberto Carlos-esque: Bale taking the ball past Marc Bartra, running the length of the Barcelona half, getting pushed by the defender but still not getting discouraged and then retaining the composure to slot home past Jose Pinto.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti described the goal as Bale’s “most important”, while midfielder Xabi Alonso claimed that he has not seen anything like it.
But that was the Copa del Rey final and tonight is the Champions League semi-final first-leg. As important a goal as that was – and it was truly important – and as great an opponent Barcelona are – and they are genuinely great – it is the Champions League that matters most to the Madridistas.
Tonight Bayern Munich will be Los Blancos’ opponents at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Spanish capital, and if Madrid once again bow out of the competition at the same stage, then the Copa del Rey success will be little more than a consolation.
The Champions League is the competition that Madrid fans have been desperately waiting to win since 2002, this is the title that they crave for the most, and Bale needs to satisfy their hunger.
Signed from Tottenham Hotspur last summer for a reported world-record fee of £85m, Bale has been a success in his first season in Spain. 14 goals and 12 assists in 25 La Liga appeared in a campaign peppered with injuries are way above average, and the Wales international hasn’t been too shabby in the Champions League either.
Five goals have come in nine appearances in Europe’s premier club competition along with two assists. One of those goals was against last season’s beaten finalists Borussia Dortmund.
Having failed to progress beyond the semi-finals of the Champions League for the last three seasons in a row under Jose Mourinho, this time Madrid are desperate to break that run. The rot has to stop and Bale needs to step up on to the big stage.
Bale is not a “superstar” at Real Madrid, not yet. But if he leads the Spanish giants to Champions League glory, then he will become more than just a superstar.