It was perhaps the easiest goal he had scored for Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo played in Karim Benzema and, with the goalkeeper Sergio Rico diving at his feet, the Frenchman calmly dinked the ball over and into the path of Gareth Bale, who gently prodded the ball into an empty net. While one of the easiest, it was still one of his most important goals too.
Bale’s goal against Sevilla on Sunday night was his 43rdin La Liga since joining Madrid in 2013 – making him the highest-scoring British player to ever grace Spain’s top tier since Gary Lineker played for Barcelona. In a season plagued by injury, the Welshman now has 15 goals in the League in just 16 appearances – a tally comparable to his more-lauded Portuguese teammate.
While Ronaldo has almost double the number of goals, he also has made double the number of appearances too. When he has been injury-free however, Bale has scored goals at rate of roughly 0.9375 per game, slightly above Ronaldo’s rate of 0.933. If he can stay fit and healthy, the former Tottenham Hotspur star will easily reach 20 goals in La Liga making this, his third League season in Spain, his most prolific. If he can notch a few more and surpass 22 in all competitions, it will be his highest return ever in a Madrid shirt.
By normal standards, the numbers are impressive. Even more impressive, too, are what they have contributed to. Bale’s first-ever goal in the Copa del Rey was against Barcelona in the 2014 final. It was, as former teammate Xabi Alonso described, “incredible”, and for all his experience, the midfielder went as far to say he had “never seen anything like it.” The same can be said for the rest of us. Moreover, the goal came five minutes from time, broke the deadlock and sent Real on their way to getting one over their fiercest rivals in the final.
Against another fierce rival just over a week later and in another decider – this time the Champions League final – Bale rose again to head his side in front in the first period of extra time against Atletico Madrid. The goal opened the floodgates as Los Blancos went on to win 4-1 and claim, at long last, their 10th European Cup title, La Decima. Seven months later, Bale continued his knack for scoring goals in finals. His 51st-minute strike helped secure Madrid’s first-ever FIFA Club World Cup trophy.
Suffice to say, Bale’s time at Madrid has seen some great success. He has won trophies, four in total so far, and has played a major role in winning them too. The only other Brit with a comparable – even better – haul is Steve McManaman, who won eight titles including two Champions Leagues and two La Ligas during his four years with Los Blancos.
As far as goals are concerned, the numbers no doubt show that Bale is the most successful Briton to play in La Primera. Yet, given this price tag, there is the belief that he should be delivering more.
Ronaldo arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2009 after a record transfer fee from Madrid was paid to Manchester United. The Portuguese has gone on to inscribe himself into the annals of the club and Spanish football with his quite astonishing goalscoring feats. Ronaldo has averaged 50 goals a season in all competitions in his seven years in the Spanish capital.
Bale also arrived after Madrid paid another record transfer fee, this time to Tottenham. However, he has not averaged half the goals that Ronaldo has and until he does, most will remain unconvinced. Normal standards do not apply any longer, thanks to extraordinary scoring records of not just Ronaldo but Lionel Messi too. Now in just his second season, even Luis Suarez has broken the 40-goal mark, while Neymar hit 39 goals last season and should easily make it past 30 goals this term.
Among such company, it is hard to stand out no doubt, but this is exactly what Bale has to do in order to convince everyone, including Madrid’s own fans. In a poll run by Marca at the beginning of the season, the fans overwhelmingly voted that they preferred James Rodriguez and Isco ahead of the Welshman. While barely any player has escaped the jeers from the terraces at the Bernabeu, Bale has often been the subject of them too.
More goals will go a long way to appeasing Madrid’s supporters, as will trophies, although this season, their only hope left of silverware is the Champions League, and they remain very much in the hunt for this, with Wolfsburg their quarter-final opponents and Los Merengues being clear favourites to advance to the last four.
Goals and victories against Barcna also help to win over fans and commentators alike. Apart from that wonder goal in the Copa del Rey final a couple of years ago, Bale has struggled in Clasicos. However, with a goal and assist on Sunday, it seems both the forward and Madrid are hitting some good form ahead of the Clasico with Barca on April 2.
And the omens are encouraging; the Catalans have never won a Clasico while topping the table and leading Madrid by at least 10 points. Time to make it count then, for Bale and co.