The Welshman has failed to learn Spanish in almost six years and is increasingly isolated within the Merengue dressing room During his brief spell with Real Sociedad, former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland sharpshooter John Aldridge assured that he needed to learn just three words in Spanish in order to get by on the pitch. Once he had mastered the ubiquitous phrase hijo de puta (son of a bitch), Aldridge joked, he felt more than comfortable communicating with team-mates, referees and opponents alike. Fast forward three decades and little seems to have changed for Brits abroad. The general consensus is that after almost six years in Madrid Gareth Bale still has severe difficulties in gelling with his multi-national dressing room companions.
Those issues, moreover, combined with a noticeable drop in performances on the pitch itself, now threaten to spell the end of the Welsh wizard’s time at the Bernabeu as he becomes ever more isolated. According to those closest to Bale he rarely integrates with the rest of the squad away from games or training, preferring more solitary pursuits. “We call him The Golfer,” goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois revealed in a recent interview.
“I would say he has so much talent, but that it is such a shame that so often that talent is blocked from shining. I live like somebody who is born and bred in Madrid. I eat late, I go bed late… it is their way of life. The other night we had a dinner with the entire squad. But Bale and (Toni) Kroos did not turn up. They reckoned the dinner was too late at night. We had arranged to be in the restaurant at 9.30pm and we started out the meal around 10.15pm and by midnight we were having coffee. We go to bed at around 1am. We have to train every morning at 11am. I think that is a perfect time. But Bale had told us ‘I am not coming to join you, guys. I go to bed at 11’.”
Marcelo too has let slip his frustration at trying to communicate with Bale, who has taken Kiko Casilla’s place at his side in the dressing room. “[Kiko] sat next to me and we used to talk all day, now I have nobody to talk to,” he confided. “Bale is now on that side but we have to speak in English, we communicate via gestures and with three words, hi, hello and goodbye.” A Madrid insider was even more scathing of the team’s shrinking violet after netting against Atletico: “He has less blood (passion) than an eel”.
On the pitch, meanwhile, Bale has lost his privileged position as an undisputed member of the Madrid starting line-up. The Welshman has not completed 90 minutes for his team since December’s Club World Cup final win over Al-Ain and has started just twice in their last seven outings, as Santiago Solari continues to place his faith in the raw, electric talents of Vinicius Junior. Although he scored a hugely controversial penalty off the bench on Sunday to win the three points at Levante, reports in Spain suggest that Bale used up his final credit in an ineffective cameo in the shock home defeat to Girona on February 17.
It is the much-maligned Karim Benzema who has stepped up to score the goals once netted in such startling quantities by Cristiano Ronaldo, with Bale’s 20 Liga appearances this term yielding a disappointing seven strikes. Benzema is the old head Madrid want around the Bernabeu to continue supporting youngsters like Vinicius and Marco Asensio. Even at 18 the former Flamengo man is showing an easygoing, extroverted personality that has made him an instant hit with the dressing room, even appearing in Ronaldo’s place alongside compatriots.
British players over the years have proved themselves extremely awkward travellers. With a few notable exceptions the likes of David Platt and Gary Lineker in a different generation, and young bucks such as Jadon Sancho in the current day they have found it difficult to adapt to foreign climes, holding a sense of being out of place that often has adverse consequences on the field. Bale has doubtlessly overcome those obstacles to become one of the cornerstones of Madrid’s last four Champions League victories, a stunning feat by any measure.
But he has never been able to shed that feeling of failing to really belong to his adopted home, and truly integrating into an unfamiliar culture. And his current mood was clear to see on Sunday when he refused to celebrate his goal with Lucas Vazquez who had come over to embrace his team-mate. With no Spanish to speak of, no friends and fewer and fewer minutes on the pitch, Bale’s reasons to stay at Madrid beyond the current season are fast fading away.