When Real Madrid paid 86 million Euros to secure the services of Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur in September, there were many people who simply shook their heads. After all, it looked to be another reactionary buy to counter Barcelona, who had just bought Brazilian sensation Neymar for a lesser price, and had the look of another failed international import.
Well, it may have taken nearly a year, but on Wednesday afternoon Bale finally ended all doubts about whether he was worth the price. During the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona it was Bale who dictated play, as he galloped past numerous defenders on his preferred left wing, in turn ensuring that Madrid were the team who remained on the front foot all game long. And in the 85th minute, Bale scored what may have been the most impressive goal of 2014, as he sprinted from within his own half, past Marc Bartra and then slotted home a goal through the legs of Jose Pinto to secure a 2-1 victory.
It is this type of performance that really turns a player from big-money foreign signing to beloved folk hero, and Bale will only have his star aided from the fact he was the best player on a field that contained Lionel Messi, Neymar, Xavi Hernandez, Luka Modric and Andres Iniesta. Add in the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo was consigned to the sidelines for the entire game and the Copa del Rey is Madrid’s first trophy since 2012, and it is obvious that Bale was vindicated by his game winner, if not his entire performance.
Now, none of this is to say that Bale has been brutal this season, and in fact statistics show that he has actually been quite impressive. In 25 La Liga appearances he has scored 14 goals and contributed 12 assists, and when all competitions are attributed for he has 20 goals and 15 assists. Still, early-season leg troubles have led some to label Bale a bit of a disappointment, a tag which surely has now dissipated.
Moving forward, it appears that Barcelona and Real Madrid are going in explicitly different paths, and the marked difference between Neymar and Gareth Bale illustrates this perfectly. While the former seems to be struggling with the adaptation to life in Spain and not being the main man at all times, Bale has assimilated into society and perfectly fits into the fast-paced, counter-attacking style in which Madrid thrives. Likewise, Barcelona has floundered as they faced better teams this year, while Real Madrid has risen to the occasion repeatedly.
With the La Liga and UEFA Champions League titles still left to play for, Madrid still has a lot left to accomplish in the 2013-2014 campaign, but winning the Copa del Rey was a good start. And while it is difficult to justify any massive transfer, it is utterly obvious that Gareth Bale has accomplished the impossible, and become beloved by the Madridistas in the process.