Is Gareth Bale Fit to Replace Mesut Ozil at Real Madrid?
There may be trouble ahead for Gareth Bale at Real Madrid. As the club's fans and star players bemoan the sale of prolific playmaker Mesut Ozil to Arsenal, the scrutiny surrounding the price tag and abilities of the Welshman is growing ever more severe.
The £85 million player is set to make his debut against Villarreal on Saturday, but with a growing sense of concern about his match fitness and conditioning, pushing himself to meet the expected deadline could do him more harm than good.
Bale may now be the world's most expensive footballer, but his value doesn't make him invincible. Having missed out on a full preseason with Tottenham Hotspur, the winger is taking a colossal risk by rushing back into action so soon after injury without the proper preparations.
His cameo off the bench for Wales on Tuesday night was his first appearance for club or country in 114 days, yet with Madrid keen to get their new landmark signing onto the field as a direct response to Neymar's arrival at Barcelona, Bale could be exposing himself to burnout or even more time out.
As is so often the case with players carrying knocks and lacking fitness, other secondary injuries can quickly occur, sometimes leading to long-term weaknesses or a loss of power or form.
Ozil's departure has turned what would have otherwise been seen as an ambitious if grossly expensive transfer into an eerie reminder of the club's sale of Claude Makelele in 2003. Replaced by another high-profile British wide player in David Beckham, at which time Richard Stevens of the Guardian quoted Florentino Perez as saying: "We will not miss Makelele. Younger players will arrive who will cause Makelele to be forgotten."
Yet Makelele wasn't forgotten. In fact, his absence was glaring, as the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Raul Gonzalez failed to find their balance without the French anchorman to offer them a foundation to play off.
Having moved to play under Mourinho at Chelsea, Makelele spent five trophy-winning years in London. Arsenal fans will be hoping the equally influential Ozil can similarly enjoy the last laugh over the unappreciative Perez.
After all, Gareth Bale is not really a playmaker, and while the purchase of Isco means that Madrid won't go without a creative midfielder in the hole, the Welshman's similarity to Cristiano Ronaldo could yet see them struggle to play together effectively.
Speaking after last night's defeat to Serbia, Wales manager Chris Coleman told the media:
If [Bale] starts Saturday, he will not finish the game. I would be amazed if he does. We have looked at him in these 10 days and he is nowhere near ready for 90 minutes even if Spanish football is slower. He may start, but he won't finish the game. He has only had four training sessions in two months which is dangerous.
Will Gareth Bale be a success at Real Madrid?
First impressions count at Real Madrid, where an impatient demand for glory and perfection underscores the club's entire culture and ethos.
It would be better for Gareth Bale to disappoint the Madridistas by delaying his first appearance rather than struggling on, unfit and unimpressive alongside his new teammates. Saturday could well be the first time many of his new club's fans will see the winger play live outside of YouTube highlight reels, and if the reality doesn't match the hype they've been sold, disaster could strike for Bale.
In an interview with the BBC to be broadcast later on Wednesday, former Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic recounted just how ruthless and unforgiving Madrid's fans can be:
I know that when (France's three-time world footballer of the year) Zinedine Zidane played for Madrid, the fans were whistling against him. If they can whistle against Zidane, for me one of the best players in history, I hope Bale has a lot of patience.
Bale will need much more than just patience to live up to the £85 million expectations in Madrid.
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