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Gareth Bale has three big months ahead of him to put out the fire

The Welshman has been under heavy fire from fans and press alike in recent months and his Real Madrid future could rest on his performances between now and the end of the season.

David Ramos/Getty Images

When Gareth Bale was interview by British newspaper the The Daily Telegraph in October 2010 he was asked about his good form in the shirt of Tottenham Hotspur. "Confidence" was the Welshman's reply.

The jet-heeled winger had just helped Spurs to a 3-1 victory over Inter Milan at White Hart Lane, a victory that eventually helped the London club to top their Champions League group and eventually bow out at the quarter-final stage against Real Madrid, his future employers. It came just a fortnight after he scored a hat-trick in Milan at the San Siro, a stunning performance that caught the attention of Europe, and in particular saw Florentino Perez sit up and take note.

Bale was flying and he was powered by confidence. His start at Tottenham, who splashed the cash on the talented youngster to haul him away from Southampton, had not gone according to plan and Spurs were pondering cutting their losses and selling him to Nottingham Forest, where he had been sent on loan. In the end, they brought him back, kept faith and the rest, as they say, is history.

Four-and-a-half years on and that confidence Bale spoke of has been largely sapped. The 25-year-old's Spanish is not good enough to read through the vast criticism directed his way in the Spanish press recently but he knows what's going on. His performances have been hit and his form has suffered.

He doesn't need to read the press in Spain. His form has been questioned back home in Britain and if that was not enough the Bernabeu public have vented their frustration at his performances. Bale has seen numerous team-mates suffer the same punishment during his 18 months in the Spanish capital but it is still a new experience to suffer it first-hand.

It's big three months for the most expensive player on the planet. Rumours have been rife all season that Bale's stay at Madrid could come to a premature end this summer, even before his current downward spiral in performance levels. Manchester United bid for him before he moved to Madrid and given their own current struggles they could look to the former Tottenham man as the perfect piece in their currently scattered jigsaw.

Chelsea, too, have been linked but United are the ones with most interest. The fact David de Gea is on their books should give them a sizeable advantage given the uncertainty surrounding the No.1 spot at Madrid and the fact De Gea will soon be Spain's first-choice stopper, easing out current Madrid legend Iker Casillas.

If reports are to be believed, Bale wants to stay - but things may well be out of his hands. He needs to make sure the power slides back his way with the kind of performances that encouraged Madrid to shell out a world-record fee for his services. He does not want to be another top player to be added to the Madrid scrap heap.

His confidence will be key and the international break has perhaps come at the right time. Bale needs to get away from the Madrid pressure cooker and that Wales are in with a chance of qualifying for their first major tournament in decades is crucial. Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs famously never got to showcase his talents in a World Cup or European Championship but Bale could lead his country to Euro 2016. Some time as a leader with his country and amongst compatriots should do him some good.

His head notably dropped after Madrid's 3-0 victory over Espanyol on home soil just after the turn of the year. Bale scored and overall had a decent game but still hit the headlines for the wrong reason when he took an opportunity to shoot himself and failed to turn it into a goal with Ronaldo waiting alongside him for a tap-in. The reaction of Madrid's talisman was one of frustration and resulted in the home crowd getting on Bale's back. He had every right to go for goal himself but the move was met with frustration. The fact the match came after a three-match losing streak in all competitions did not help.

Since then Bale has been the fall guy for Madrid's form. Sometimes he's deserved the flank but sometimes he hasn't. Either way, he finds himself in a tricky situation going into three months that are crucial for his future and for the club's.

With 14 goals and six assists so far this season, the statistics show that Bale has suffered this term. After playing just one match more last season, with 32, he had 21 goals and 16 assists. He scored the superb winner in the final of the Copa del Rey and he also netted the second in Lisbon to put Madrid ahead for the first time against Atletico in the final of the Champions League. Sergio Ramos's goal will be the one remembered, and rightly so, but Bale's header was crucial nevertheless.

Therein lies part of the problem. While goals and assists are clearly important, they are not the be-all and end-all. Crucial goals at crucial times, as well as it being his first season, saved Bale last season. His debut season was a success but the overall performances of the Welshman we're seeing this term are not massively away from the level he was showing last season.

Goals and assists, or a relative lack of them, are part of the problem but his work ethic is another. While Ronaldo's stats are unquestionable, Karim Benzema makes up for his relatively low return thanks to his hard work in leading the line. He is the man who is meant to be helping create the chances for Ronaldo and Bale. Madrid fans like skill and majesty but they like hard graft too and the former Tottenham man has been below-par on both fronts.

He is the man who needs to tuck back into a midfield four when Madrid do not have the ball but he is often seen jogging back and not showing the same kind of intensity as Isco or James Rodriguez have shown when they've tracked back. This despite Bale bursting on to the scene with Southampton as a left-back. He has the tools to defend, which is even more frustrating, and it's not like he hasn't shown it at Madrid on occasions.

That Bale has been criticised for his form is not unfair, but the level of criticism aimed at him when Madrid have been below-par as a team is perhaps too much. Too much because of the relation with his huge transfer fee, too much because he is not the only one and too much because his overall performances have not been drastically behind those of last season.

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