Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo's heir apparent could become the best player in the world in a few years. At least that's what former Real Madrid boss Rafa Benitez believes.
As hostile as some Madridistas are towards Rafa, his kind words are true, however he's not all of a sudden Nostradamus. Anyone can sit in front of their television on the weekend and predict Bale's ascent to stardom, if he's not already there. The problem is the one variable that Real Madrid nor Bale himself can account for: health.
Madridistas have become expectant that the terms "injury" and "Bale" will be used in the same sentence at some point during the season. Weeks ago, Bale picked up a calf injury and the immediate response was that the Welshman would return for Los Blancos' clash with Roma. The prognosis was acceptable at the time however days have passed since Real Madrid defeated the Italian giants and Bale wasn't present.
Bale's ongoing health concerns are perplexing and while reports suggest Real Madrid should cut ties with the world's most expensive footballer, the real question is the one nobody is asking. What does Bale's rotating door of injuries mean for the future of Cristiano?
The Portuguese attacker isn't at the top level of his game anymore, that's evident. The 31-year old's decline isn't only obvious on the pitch but also on the stat sheet. Last season, the Dark Invader scored 48 La Liga goals in 3,095 minutes. It's a staggering goalscoring rate considering he scored on average 1.4 goals per 90 minutes. While no one can possibly expect the Portuguese to replicate those numbers, his proficiency in front of the net this season doesn't come close.
In 2,250 minutes played thus far, Cristiano has scored 22 goals which equates to .88 per 90 minutes. Additionally, his chances created per 90 minutes has sliced in half and his assists mark is down from last season. Stating his statistical decline is by no means a shot a Cristiano. The man is brilliant but unfortunately there isn't a player in the world that can elude father time when he knocks.
With that being said, it's understandable that rumors are beginning to emerge questioning how many years Cristiano has left in the Spanish capital. However, if his heir apparent can't stay on the pitch, Real Madrid shouldn't entertain the thought of the Portuguese's departure. His performance is declining but Cristiano's been the epitome of consistency. He's never unavailable due to injury and he possesses leadership skills.
Cristiano is the quintessential Galactico and represents Real Madrid to the fullest. Unless Florentino Perez is prepared to spend big, which he said is a tactic of the past, his No. 7 cannot leave. Without a proper, healthy, trustworthy replacement, Cristiano's exit door should remain locked.