• Bale has scored 102 goals in 231 games and, in winning those 13 trophies, scored two of the greatest goals in the club’s history. Beckham scored 20 goals in 159 matches, winning one La Liga and a Spanish Super Cup.
• When the team went out for a meal last January, Bale was one of only three squad members not to make it.
If David Beckham had won 13 trophies in his time at Real Madrid, scoring in two Champions League finals, he would have been carried shoulder high out of the Santiago Bernabeu after his final match.
Gareth Bale’s inglorious, apparently imminent departure from the club is a sign of how, for all the goals and silverware, Real Madrid supporters want to be enchanted — and Bale could never turn on the charm the way the less successful Beckham could.
Bale has scored 102 goals in 231 games and, in winning those 13 trophies, scored two of the greatest goals in the club’s history. Beckham scored 20 goals in 159 matches, winning one La Liga and a Spanish Super Cup.
Yet Beckham remains hugely popular among Real supporters, who still recall fondly his last game at the home stadium when he was centre stage as they celebrated winning the league. He ended up running to the north end of the stadium after the final whistle with the St George’s flag draped around his neck, clapping fans, encircled by photographers, lapping up the acclaim.
He then trotted to the middle of the pitch and knelt down to kiss the centre-spot before going off to more applause, brushing the chalk mark off his face as he went. Beckham also had problems with the coach in his final season — Fabio Capello vowed never to play him again after he signed for LA Galaxy — but he was recalled and left a hero. Bale, in stark contrast, was jeered by home fans every time he played in the second half of last season. During one match, even his first touch was whistled.
When he shrugged off team-mates trying to celebrate with him after he scored against Levante, or when he celebrated another goal with an abusive corte de manga (sleeve cut), they were outbursts of frustration towards those fans. That sleeve cut — the Spanish equivalent of showing the middle finger — was badly executed. He escaped a fine or ban, in part, because it was so poorly done. His detractors agreed it was another sign of his failure to embrace the culture.
Beckham’s family were on the pitch during those celebrations in 2007. He gave his third son Cruz a Spanish-sounding name. He made close friendships with Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo and — although he learned no more Spanish than Bale — he appeared integrated right from his first ‘Hala Madrid!’ pronouncement at his presentation in 2003.
Bale is a more private person. There is a perceived coldness, too. When the team went out for a meal last January, he was one of only three squad members not to make it. Marcelo complained of Bale’s lack of Spanish, telling Brazilian media: “I have Bale to one side of me (in the dressing room) and he doesn’t speak Spanish so I only talk to him in English or with gestures.”
In another interview, Thibaut Courtois revealed the players call Bale ‘The Golfer’.
He lived up to the nickname in June, tweeting about the US Open during the presentation of Eden Hazard. All this has made it easy for coach Zinedine Zidane to ostracise him. His performances last season were on a par with the likes of Marco Asensio and Isco, but they are not such easy targets.
The manager knows the way the club works as well as anyone. He is aware that behind every earth-shattering transfer at Real Madrid there has to be an almost equally tremor-inducing departure. In 2013 when Bale arrived it was Mesut Ozil who was pushed out to make way. In 2014 when Real signed James Rodriguez, the club forced out Angel Di Maria to pay for the Colombian.
Zidane has long identified Bale as the man he wanted to cash in on to bring the likes of Hazard and Paul Pogba into what will be ‘his’ Real Madrid. Last summer, Zidane wanted Bale out and Bale knew it. He declined an interview with the club television channel after Real’s last home game because so much had been made of it supposedly being his final match.
Despite being the club’s best player and top scorer during the run-in, Zidane left him out of the Champions League final against Liverpool. Earlier in the season, he had dropped him against Paris Saint-Germain for the last-16 tie and substituted him at half-time in the second leg of the quarter-finals against Juventus.
Bale climbed off the bench to rescue the team with two goals. But that display only convinced Zidane that selling Bale could pay for his rebuilding plan. In the end, it was Zidane who left the club last summer, after his demand that Bale be sold was rejected. When Zidane returned midway through last season, it was evident he had not changed his thinking. He still wanted Hazard and Pogba and he still saw Bale’s departure as the best way of financing the change.
And if he gets his way, Bale’s final act will have been that friendly against Bayern Munich in Houston, when he was left in the stands and the coach said afterwards: the sooner he goes, the better. What a contrast with the way Beckham bowed out.