What: Gareth Bale’s debut
When: September 14th 2013
Who: Against Villarreal
Where: El Madrigal, Vila-real
Score: Villarreal 2-2 Real Madrid
Goals: 1-0 (Cani, min 21), 1-1 (Gareth Bale, min 39), 1-2 (Cristiano Ronaldo, min 64), 2-2 (Giovani Dos Santos, min 70)
Real Madrid line-up: Diego López; Dani Carvajal, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Nacho; Luka Modrić, Asier Illarramendi (Sami Khedira, min 62); Isco; Gareth Bale (Ángel Di María, min 62), Karim Benzema (Álvaro Morata, min 73), Cristiano Ronaldo
Coach: Carlo Ancelotti
Gareth Bale’s Real Madrid career started like it meant to go on, with the player injured. Following the completion of his transfer from Tottenham on September 1st 2013, the then-24-year-old arrived in Spain nursing an injury and couldn’t make his debut until the middle of the month, in the fourth round of the 2013/14 season away at Villarreal. Even then, coach Carlo Ancelotti stated before the game that Bale wasn’t fit enough to play the 90 minutes.
Bale’s Real Madrid career also started like it meant to go on in the sense of the player getting himself on the scoresheet. Just because he hasn’t been as prolific as Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s often forgotten just how many goals Bale has contributed over his seven years in white. With 105 goals in 249 appearances, or a goal every 170 minutes, the Welshman has contributed a lot over the years and it all started when he opened his account against Villarreal on his debut.
It was a difficult start for Bale given that he wasn’t 100 percent sharp and given that the pitch at Villarreal’s El Madrigal was terrible. It was like playing football on a mound of sugar. It suited Villarreal, though, who went into the game with three wins from three so far that season, having done so well under Marcelino since winning promotion back into Spain’s top flight.
Villarreal took the lead in the 21st minute of the match through Cani and it was a more than deserved advantage for the team in yellow. Diego López had had to make two excellent close-range saves before that goal and produced another spectacular double-stop shortly afterwards to merely keep Real Madrid in the game. When looking back on the López-vs-Casillas debate, it’s often forgotten just how good López was when he hit his peak and he showed it in the first half of this encounter.
Thanks to López keeping his side within striking distance of Villarreal, Bale was able to level the scores shortly before the half-time break, in the 39th minute. Following neat build-up play from Luka Modrić and Dani Carvajal, Bale was strong enough to get his body in front of Mario Gaspar to meet Carvajal’s low cross and to turn it in from a couple of yards out.
For the first time, LaLiga witnessed Bale’s loveheart celebration. And, after that, his confidence grew and grew, with a trademark burst past Jaume Costa coming up shortly afterwards and with a shot that only just flew over the crossbar at the start of the second half.
In the 62nd minute, with the scores at 1-1 in this match that would go on to finish 2-2, Bale’s first outing came to an end. This was also the debut of Asier Illarramendi and the two summer signings were taken off as a double substitution just after the hour mark – because of fitness in Bale’s case and because he’d been largely anonymous in Illarramendi’s case.
Overall, this was a really good debut for Bale. It couldn’t have gone much better given the circumstances of his fitness, the pitch and the quality of the opposition.
He combined well throughout with Modrić, the man he’d already played 118 games with for Tottenham. There were some crisp exchanges with Isco too and the Carvajal-and-Bale combo clearly worked well at the Welshman’s goal.
All eyes were, of course, also on the Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo dynamic. The British press were reporting at the time that Bale had overtaken Ronaldo to become the world’s most expensive player, while the version in the Spanish press was that the fee paid for Ronaldo four years earlier remained the largest. Pride and ego were expected to stand between these two players, but the body language between them was entirely uncontroversial in this first appearance together, with plenty of thumbs-upping and high-fiving. Even when the two players stood over the same freekick in the 16th minute, Bale didn’t seem overly fazed when Ronaldo ultimately struck it.
That freekick missed the target, but Ronaldo did go on to score Real Madrid’s second after Bale had gone off, before Giovani Dos Santos netted the fourth goal in this sharing of the spoils. It wasn’t a great night for Real Madrid, but it was something of a dream debut for Bale after finally completing his move and after finally being fit enough to start. As MARCA put it on the front page the following morning: “Bale and his goal were the most positive things for a Real Madrid side with no defence and no play.” That’s quite an accurate summary of this September evening at El Madrigal.