Would you boo Gareth Bale after the in-that-order-flaggate? No? Me neither. Can we put together a list of mitigating factors that make the whole thing look a bit better, just like Euan McTear did on Sunday evening at the Irish Rover in Madrid? Of course. Is he a phenomenal player who deserved a bit more care from the Madrid media? Sure.
Did he cross a red line posing in pictures with that flag?
I’ve written before about the way the Santiago Bernabeu interacts with the team and its players. For instance, there is the murmur. If the stadium is unsure about a new player, and by that I mean about his ability to perform in a Real Madrid shirt, that player will start to listen a background sound every time he get the ball. The sound will vanish as soon as he proves his worth with a few plays that show not so much his ability, for his character, the strength of his persona.
That usually applies for newcomers. In the case of the tried and tested, the boos will come when the player performs below his usual level. This logic makes it impossible for any player to be exempt from being booed, because even the best have their ups and downs. “You guys booed Ronaldo”, supporters from other teams tell me every once in a while. “We’ve also booed Butragueño, Zidane and Raúl. Well, when we did it was because they sucked, and those boos helped them to get back on track”, I usually reply. Mind you, I’ve only booed two players in almost 25 years as a socio: one of them was Guti, as he drove me nuts when he decided not to try hard. The other was Claudemir Vitor: he was so bad you would have booed him too. But in general, I believe that putting your own players under additional pressure rarely helps.
Benzema has heard more than his fair share of boos before becoming the scoring beast we’ve seen recently. The public believed that he lacked hunger; Mourinho’s statement about him simply expressed what the Bernabeu thought. Ramos was booed after his mistake on Saturday’s win over Real Sociedad, again as a way to show discontent, but also to get him back focused on his job.
But those examples have to do with on-the-pitch issues, that need to be sorted out on that same place. The boos directed to Bale have nothing to do with his behaviour as a Real Madrid player which, needless to say, has been exceptional. The boos have to do with an event that happened far from the Bernabeu, and that meant a decent amount of disrespect towards club and fans, even if it was a tongue in cheek comeback at Pedja Mijatovic.
I can think of very few examples of this in the past with a relevant starter: when Mendoza threw Martin Vazquez under the bus during their contract extension negotiations, perhaps, or when Cristiano said he felt sad – that earned him a few boos too, but he went back at scoring once a match and everyone’s sadness faded.
The noise when he joined the match was expected, at least by most Madridistas I know. What went well beyond my worst expectations was the fact that he was booed whenever he touched the ball, a boneheaded decision by any fan who wants their team to win, but that shows that something has been broken between the Bernabeu and the Cardiff Express.
Kiyan believes that bond can be fixed. I don’t. Not with the current President and not when a sizeable amount of socios won’t forget the flag even if he scores again in another Champions League final. Now it’s just a matter of finishing the relationship in a mutually beneficial way, and for that Bale has to play as much as possible until the winter transfer window opens.
And yes, I can see this dragging on until the end of the season, especially because there’s not too many teams who can pay Bale’s wages.
But he won’t recover the trust of the Bernabeu, of that I’m sure.