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Reflecting on Gareth Bale's Debut Season

Nine months ago, I treated Madrid's purchase of Gareth Bale with extreme skepticism, suspicion and cynicism. Now, with the Champions League Final only days away, I humbly beg the Welsh Wizard's forgiveness for ever doubting his ability and teamwork in a retrospective look at Bale's debut season in the Spanish capital.

Dennis Grombkowski

Dear Gareth,

I must begin this letter by making a confession. I really didn't want you at Real Madrid. When the rumor mill started linking you to Los Blancos last summer, I couldn't help but doubt the reasons for your signing. I know you were named the Premier League's best player and you consistently produced highlight reel goals, but why sign you when we already had Cristiano Ronaldo tearing up the left wing? On top of that, why pay a ridiculously high transfer fee to sign you when your injury history was, dare I say it, significant?

Despite my online dissent, Florentino Pérez pushed his Galáctico policy to new heights by dropping €91 million on your purchase. To add insult to injury, your signing was singled out as one of the reasons my beloved Mesut Özil sought greener pastures in North London. I know, I know. You had nothing to do with the transfer fee and it's not like you literally kicked Mesut out of Valdebebas, but hey, I'm an irrational sports fan, so I was mad at you.

Your season got off to a rocky start, too. While you scored that diving tap-in in your first match against Villareal, your lack of pre-season training really took a toll on you, huh? You ended up missing seven games between your arrival and the Christmas break and often came on or off as a substitute because of your knocks, niggles, strains and pains. You'd go from scoring against Juventus and Galatasaray to disappearing against Osasuna and FC Copenhagen. I couldn't figure you out, and I frequently advocated for Jesé to start in your place.

To your credit, as we entered into the new year, your performances started to grow more consistent. I'd initially doubted your ability to play second-fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo, but you somehow managed to play the part of provider and scorer with a calmness and tranquility that transcended any hint of ego or arrogance. As it stands today, you've scored 21 goals and served 16 assists across all competitions, which in a team featuring goal threats like Cristiano, Benzema, Ángel Di María and Isco is quite good. And while I thought you were a one-footed, one-trick pony, you've proved me wrong again by delivering exquisite crosses to Benz and CR7 with your right foot and employing the occasional "croqueta" or Cruyff turn to get past defenders.

Your chemistry has improved by leaps and bounds, and going solely off my own memory, it seems you've developed an impressive rapport with three of our fullbacks: Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Fábio Coentrão. It's not unusual to see you finish a chance off a cross from Coentrão, pick out Marcelo for a switch in the field of play, or lay off a perfectly weighted through-ball for an overlapping Carvajal. The joy when you guys celebrate a goal is noticeable too. While I'm sure your Spanish is a work-in-progress, it's clear that you've been accepted by the locker room and get along well with lads, even if you sometimes get lost in translation.

Now I can't finish this letter without acknowledging that goal. You know the one I'm talking about, but even so, let me include a handy gif for all our fellow Madridistas:

Unbelievable. But even as that play was unfolding, I was doubting you. First off, I thought as soon as Bartra shoved you out of bounds you'd raise your arms and quit running. But you didn't. You powered through the challenge like a rocket exiting earth's atmosphere and exploded toward Pinto's goal. Then, as you approached the box, you took a touch with the outside of your right foot that looked a little too heavy and risked another intervention by Bartra. I thought surely you'd lose control of the Brazuca, but once again, you made me eat my words. Your nutmeg of Barcelona's keeper was the perfect ending to what will go down as one of the most spectacular solo goals in Real Madrid history.

After supplying the goal that helped Madrid lift its first trophy of the Ancelotti era, you turned up again in the Champions League semifinal to sacrifice some of your ridiculous attacking instincts to shut down Bayern Munich's wing maestro Franck Ribéry. Well, it worked, and you even managed to supply CR7 with a perfect assist as Bayern's Jerome Boateng breathed down your neck. When it came to the business end of the season, you delivered big, Gareth, and I seem like a moron for doubting you so relentlessly over the course of your first year.

Now you have the chance to play in the Champions League Final in your first year as a Real Madrid player. I can't imagine what kinds of feelings or thoughts that triggers, but I hope you know there are millions, and I mean literally millions of fans around the world who are cheering for your success. And while I may have hung on to my skepticism for longer than necessary, I now feel only one thing: Real Madrid is lucky to have Gareth Bale.

Good luck on Saturday, GB!

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