Gareth Bale didn’t choose the figure Real Madrid paid to take him away from Spurs, but like it or not, the world’s most expensive footballer will spend his time in Spain having to prove he was worth the money.
The Bale tap-in from Dani Carvajal’s cross to open his Madrid account and cancel out Cani’s early goal was a start, but the 38 minutes that preceded it proved there is still plenty of work to be done.
Starting wide on the right, Bale cut the figure of a man without a full, uninterrupted pre-season under his belt. Surrendering possession, delivering crosses too high and wide, the £85m man struggled to make his mark in the early stages of the game and was largely anonymous.
It was understandable to some degree. Marcelino Garcia Toral’s Villarreal side were sensational in the opening periods at El Madrigal. Playing with intensity and intelligence, Cani and Giovani Dos Santos pulled the strings in midfield and the Yellow Submarine overwhelmed the visitors with the some of the best football played by a La Liga side outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Bale moved more centrally but had little joy in a more familiar position. Swapping flanks with Ronaldo didn’t do the trick either. His early contribution in the game perhaps summed up by his eagerness to apologize to a teammate for not delivering the ball straight to his feet. He’ll have to learn fast that this is a club where there is no time for niceties on the pitch. Even to your teammates.
He can thank his former Spurs teammate Luke Modric and Dani Carvajal for not making his Madrid debut a game to forget. The Croatian delightfully slipped the ball into the Madrid right back’s path whose low cross found the right boot of Gareth Bale to slot away his first goal for Los Blancos.
Ancelotti clearly saw enough to keep Bale on for the second half. An extra fifteen minutes for Bale to display some more familiar traits of his game shooting from range at Sergio Asenjo in the Villarreal goal and managing one mazy run before being replaced by Angel Di Maria just after the hour mark.
It’s probably not quite the way he dreamt it would play out, but getting a goal and an hour of competitive football against one of the in form sides in La Liga is not a bad start.
There’ll be no question marks over his football ability, but more the path he’ll have to take to succeed in this star-studded Madrid side. Ronaldo is well, Ronaldo. Modric (in the absence of Alonso) and Isco have started the season excellently as a central midfield pairing and Di Maria looks determined to prove he should not be the one overlooked to accommodate Bale.
As the first eventful chapter in the Gareth Bale Madrid story closes, the next promises a return to the stage his former club aspires to reach once again. Gracing the Champions League could be what the £85m man needs to show the Madristas he was worth chasing all summer long.