Could Gareth Bale really come back to Real Madrid and play for Los Blancos again during the final year of his contract, during 2021/22? Well, that was the rumour after Carlo Ancelotti’s return.
After departing the Spanish capital last summer to go on loan to Tottenham, it seemed that Bale had already kicked his last ball for Real Madrid. A good end to the season with Spurs and strong showings for Wales at Euro 2020 have demonstrated, though, that there is still plenty of football left in the Welshman. If he’s sufficiently motivated, that is. The logic goes that Real Madrid might as well keep Bale in the squad for 2021/22, considering they’d be paying the bulk of his wages anyway if he goes out on loan.
Then there’s the change in the dugout. It was clear that Zinedine Zidane didn’t want Bale at the club any more, even famously saying during the 2019 pre-season tour that “if Bale can leave tomorrow then that’d be better for everyone”. After the Welshman remained in Zidane’s squad for 2019/20, the coach finally got rid of him last year and seemed glad to not have to answer questions about the 31-year-old in every press conference.
Carlos Ancelotti thinks differently, though. It was actually the Italian who brought Bale up during his introductory press conference at the start of June. Asked about the current squad, he namedropped Bale twice without even being specifically asked about the forward. He said: “There’s a mix of players with experience, like Kroos, Modrić, Ramos, Bale and Benzema. Then there are some very young players with a lot of quality like Vinícius, Rodyrgo and Valverde. There were even some players loaned out like Bale, Ødegaard and Ceballos and, even still, this Real Madrid side reached the Champions League semis and fought for LaLiga.”
Then, when Ancelotti was asked for more specific thoughts on the player he previously coached between 2013 and 2015, he said: “Gareth didn’t play a lot [last season]. He didn’t have a lot of time back in the Premier League. But, he scored a lot of goals, especially in the last few matches. I know him very well and I think he has the motivation to play as well as possible. He could have a very good season. I have no doubts about that.”
That was a huge vote of confidence in Bale. It’s true that Ancelotti is as cunning as they come and that he knows it is never a good thing to talk down the value of a player currently on your club’s books. Perhaps the new coach was just trying to put Bale in the shop window for another club to come along and offer… well, something. But, at the same time, Ancelotti might actually see Bale as part of his plans.
They worked so well together the first time, as Bale enjoyed his best years under the Italian. Both Bale and Ancelotti arrived together at the Bernabéu in the summer of 2013, achieving success in that first year as Bale scored the winning goals in the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals of that 2013/14 campaign.
Under Ancelotti, Bale scored 39 goals and assisted 31 more for a total of 70 direct goal contributions in 92 matches and 7,367 minutes. That worked out at a rate of one direct goal contribution every 105 minutes. That wasn’t Bale’s best rate during his Real Madrid career, as he actually had a goal or assist every 103 minutes with Julen Lopetegui and every 62 minutes with Rafael Benítez. But, Lopetegui and Benítez were there for under half a year each. With Ancelotti, Bale was consistently great during the two years.
This was 24-year-old Bale and 25-year-old Bale, it has to be said. He has lost energy and impact since then. He’s no longer all-action. It’s now limited action. He’s gone from the wackiness of Wingdings to the banality of Comic Sans. Yet, he still has something.
Bale will turn 32 on July 16th, just three days before he and the other players who exited Euro 2020 in the last 16 are set to join Ancelotti for pre-season training at Valdebebas. While the Welshman’s future remains a mystery, he should be there for the summer workouts as no move away is likely to have been finalised by then. If so, this means that Ancelotti and Bale will have the chance to work together again, when the Italian and, perhaps more importantly, Antonio Pintus will be able to put the player through his paces to see what he can still offer at the age of 32.
“I know Ancelotti is a great manager and I get on with him really well, as we had some great times in the past,” Bale has said of the new Real Madrid coach this summer, dangling his own hint that he might stay. “He is a great guy. We had a great time together at Real Madrid and I’m sure he’s going to be amazing.”
We’ll soon know if Bale will take up one of the precious 25 first-team squad places that Real Madrid have available for next season. That’s still unlikely, but you just can’t assume that he’ll leave. Zidane, remember, thought that Bale might leave “tomorrow” during that tour in the USA. That was 711 days ago and Bale is still on the Real Madrid payroll.