Gareth Bale might have been relieved that his late miss against Italy did not cost Wales a place in the last 16 at Euro 2020, but he must now consider his future in football.
With five minutes remaining of the crucial tie between Italy and Wales, Robert Page elected to withdraw the Real Madrid forward. In the past, it would have been Bale who would remain on the pitch come what may, given his ability to decide a game through the sheer strength of his determination, often assisted by the power he developed, and the match-winning technique he could rely upon.
As we have seen over the course of his spell with Spurs, that Bale is gone. At Real Madrid there was enough under Zinedine Zidane to suggest he was not being given a fair chance, but those arguments are largely negated by the fact Zidane and Real simply kept winning. The chance for Bale to prove that he should have remained in Madrid last season came when he returned to north London.
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Now, there is obviously more than a single reason for his struggles this season. For almost every player, the effect of the coronavirus pandemic appears to have been an unusual obstacle to their form and fitness. Bale does not have to be any different to be similarly afflicted. As well as that, Jose Mourinho had accelerated quickly into his standard end times operating procedure, and when he engineers an atmosphere that is toxic, few manage to impress on the pitch.
As well as that, this Spurs team simply are not as capable as the one that Mauricio Pochettino impressed with, even if the personnel is relatively unchanged. As Spurs struggle to attract a new permanent manager to step in for Mourinho and replace Ryan Mason, it seems that the situation under Daniel Levy is not as attractive as it once was.
But when Bale was at his peak, that kind of thing wouldn’t matter. Under Harry Redknapp, for goodness’ sake, he looked like he could be the next best player in the world, the natural successor to Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid. Even while he may not have met the standards that his Spurs performances promised, there were enough special moments for him to have held down a career at Real.
One can speculate why he did not build upon his successes to become an even better player. It seems too easy to blame his obsession with golf, or his lack of integration with life in Spain. Nevertheless, he has offered little compelling argument otherwise. This is a player with all the talents to be close to the best, at a side that dominated in the league and also in Europe, and he could not quite grasp the opportunity.
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Bale retreated into himself, and did not appear to be one of those players loved by a squad regardless of his involvement - he is no Juan Mata style figure. Instead, he tried to engineer a huge semi-retirement to China before having the move dissolved by Real’s president Florentino Perez. At Spurs, he has proven himself to be a capable player who has problems with fitness. He more or less admitted in one interview that he intended his emotional homecoming to his former side to be useful merely as a training exercise. That might insult and disappoint Spurs fans, but it is more alarming for Bale’s career.
In the past four seasons, he has played just 90 league games. This is no longer a player who can be relied upon when needed. And at 31, he has been out of the loop for one of the few remaining important seasons he has left. By considering a move to China the year before, perhaps Bale should admit that he is now willing to wind down a career that will perhaps offer one last World Cup jaunt with Wales and nothing else. Is it worth holding down a career by taking a huge step down elsewhere, just to play for his country?
He might say yes, but on the evidence of the past year for Wales, perhaps his country would be less insistent. Wales have already been burned before on Ryan Giggs, a player who could not commit to them as they wished, and by seeing his club career flounder, perhaps Bale is letting down his country in a different way, but he is undeniably allowing his standards to slip.
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