South Wales Echo


- GLEN WILLIAMS Football writer glen.williams@walesonlin­

IF Gareth Bale hung his boots up tomorrow, there would be few who would rail against the suggestion he is the greatest footballin­g Welshman of all time. John Charles was a colossus, Ryan Giggs was world class, Neville Southall was the best goalkeeper in the world in the 1980s, but what Bale has achieved for club and country stands alone.

It is why his insidious, jarring relationsh­ip with the Spanish media feels like a personal affront to many in this corner of the world.

Is he blameless? Of course not. He has done his fair share of eyewinking and pot stirring by posing in team photos doing a golf swing and, of course, that flag he danced with on Wales duty. But many believe Marca stepped over the line last week in their depiction of Bale as a cartoon parasite, sucking blood from the Real Madrid badge.

The narrative shifted in Spain a few years back when he became a bizarre lightning rod for abuse from fans and critics alike after the then coach Zinedine Zidane deemed him surplus to requiremen­ts.

Bale has won 14 trophies while at the Bernabeu, more than Zidane during his playing career. He has more Real Madrid goals than the Brazilian Ronaldo and has produced more assists for the club than David Beckham. The guy should be a celebrated legend as much there as he is for Wales.

Alas, that is not the case. In fact, in the last couple of years it has been the opposite.

We have seen some quite shocking incidents which have built up to last week’s ugly Marca article, and it’s probably fair to think they are all interlinke­d. The media fuels the narrative and fans run with it.

On Friday, Bale had finally seen enough, speaking out passionate­ly about the treatment he has received.

Here’s how we got to this point...


While things had been bubbling beneath the surface for some time, the real flashpoint to kickstart the worst of it appears to have been in November 2019 when Bale danced happily behind that now infamous ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order’ flag after beating Hungary 2-0 to book a place in Euro 2020.

It came in direct response to former Real Madrid player Predrag Mijatovic, who stuck the boot into Bale, criticisin­g the Cardiff-born star’s love of golf when he wrote in a column for Spanish outlet AS: “The first thing he thinks about is Wales, then golf and after that, Real Madrid.”

Naturally, adoring Wales fans threw their support behind their talismanic forward during that Hungary game, swapping out the lyrics from “Viva Gareth Bale” to “Wales. Golf. Madrid.” It’s become a running joke ever since. In this country, at least.

Marca, predictabl­y, was outraged. Its front page splash after the incident read: “Irrespetuo­so. Desacertad­o. Desagradec­ido. En ese orden.” It translates as: “Disrespect­ful. Wrong. Ungrateful. In that order.”

Los Blancos fans subsequent­ly jeered him when he came on for Real Madrid just days later in a game against Real Sociedad.


Bale’s crumbling relationsh­ip with Zidane and the press came to a head. The sight of Bale laughing and pretending to sleep on the Real Madrid bench during their victory over Alaves evoked reactions ranging from laughter to anger and everything in between.

When Zidane called on Brahim Diaz as his fifth s u b stitute, consigning Bale to the bench for the rest of the match once again, supporters on these shores were left baffled over why the player continued to be ostracised.

Bale laughed almost in disbelief and pulled his face mask over his eyes, creating a makeshift sleeping mask, presumably as a means of making light of what was becoming an ugly situation in Spain.

The media, of course, took the nuclear option. ‘Bale’s career at Madrid cannot be resuscitat­ed’, Marca’s headline read the next morning. Former Venezuela internatio­nal Alejandro Riera, also a pundit on ESPN, blasted Bale by saying: “Such immaturity, what are we? Kids? He has become a caricature of himself!”

Mundo Deportivo wrote, in a damning column, “He is no longer necessary”.


Later that summer, the winger reportedly told the manager he did not want to travel to Manchester for a Champions League clash because he knew he would not be played.

Columnist Jesus Gallego branded Bale’s decision not to travel to Manchester “shameful” and his flagholdin­g episode a “bad taste joke” before taking an oddly sinister turn in his next AS column, trying to put a gagging order on the player during internatio­nal a forth- coming break.

Bale sealed a loan move to his former club Tottenham shortly after, and the same outlet branded the forward ‘cursed’ as Spurs threw away a 3-0 lead against West Ham in his first game back for the North London club.


It was telling that, in the lead-up to Bale’s 100th Wales cap in November 2021, he made a point of mentioning the treatment he received from the media in this country compared to Spain.

“It is such a special country,” Bale said. “It is such a special bond between the players, the staff, the fans, and even the media are a little bit nicer to us.”

While Wales, and the rest of the UK media, deservedly lavished praise on a modern-day great in the wake of him receiving his 100th cap

for his country, in Spain they did not miss a chance to stick the boot in once again after an injury-plagued run in the Spanish capital.

Spanish pundit Antonio Romero said on radio station Cadena Ser: “Considerin­g he’s Real Madrid’s best-paid player, his attitude is disgracefu­l.

“On 30 June (when his contract expires), Madrid will get a load off their backs. I think he’s a poor example to others in the dressing room and in private someone should give him an absolute rollicking.

“It’s shocking that he’s a starter today for his national team after more than two months without playing for Madrid. He’s taking the p*** out of the club he represents.”


Bale was subjected to vile abuse outside Real Madrid’s training base just days later as so-called fans hurled expletives at him.

An injury to his calf on internatio­nal duty meant that he would miss a number of weeks of action for Los Blancos. The news sparked a vicious backlash in the Spanish media, with one pundit erupting live on TV over Bale’s chequered injury record.

However, that spilled over into actual abuse being thrown Bale’s way within touching distance. A video emerged on Twitter showing the 32-year-old leaving the Spanish club’s Valdebebas base with a small group of fans waiting outside.

They began to curse at the Wales talisman. During the vile verbal abuse, one supporter appeared to throw a pen into the side of Bale’s Audi, prompting the player to stop and look at the perpetrato­r before driving off. It was not the first time Bale’s car has been targeted, following an unsavoury incident in 2015 after a 2-1 loss to Barcelona.


Marca last week launched another attack on Bale, branding him “the Welsh parasite”. Earlier in the week, Bale awoke to enraged headlines from Spanish media organisati­ons as they took umbrage with the Wales captain daring to enjoy himself during a training session with his internatio­nal team-mates.

Marca plastered the image of a happylooki­ng Bale and Joe Rodon in Welsh training gear alongside the headline “It doesn’t hurt anymore”. The accompanyi­ng text read: “Bale, who didn’t even see the Clasico at the stadium, trains hard with Wales.”

On Thursday Marca continued to question him. Accompanyi­ng a headline which read, simply, “The Welsh Parasite”, its website mocked up an image of Bale’s face on a parasite’s body, appearing to suck blood from the Real Madrid badge.

Following his stunning opener, Bale repeatedly patted the Welsh dragon on his chest.

He was asked if his celebratio­ns were a message to those who penned such brutal words on his situation ahead of the game, and the attacker’s response was telling.

“No. I don’t need to send a message, honestly,” he told Sky Sports. “It’s a waste of my time. It’s disgusting, they should all be ashamed of themselves. I’m not fussed. End of.”

Spanish TV pundit Cristobal Soria then, somewhat extraordin­arily, called for Real Madrid to fire Bale as an argument broke out live on television.


The Wales star hit back after Marca’s tasteless editorial and accompanyi­ng cartoon in an explosive statement condemning the abuse he had received from Marca as “slanderous, derogatory and speculativ­e”.

He continued: “At a time when people are taking their own lives because of the callousnes­s and relentless­ness of the media, I want to know who is holding these journalist­s and the news outlets that allow them to write articles like this accountabl­e?

“Fortunatel­y I have developed a thick skin during my time in the public spotlight, but that doesn’t mean articles like these don’t cause damage and upset personally and profession­ally to those at the receiving end of these malicious stories. I have witnessed the toll the media can take on people’s mental and physical health.

“The media expect superhuman performanc­es from profession­al athletes, and will be the first to celebrate with them when they deliver, yet instead of commiserat­ing with them when they show an ounce of human error, they are torn to shreds instead, encouragin­g anger and disappoint­ment in their fans.

“The everyday pressures on athletes is immense, and it’s as clear as day how negative media attention could easily send an already stressed athlete, or anybody in the public eye, over the edge. I hope that by the time our children are of an age where they are able to ingest news, that journalism ethics and standards will have been enforced more stringentl­y.

“So I want to use my platform to encourage change in the way we publicly talk about, and criticise, people, simply for the most part, not meeting the often unrealisti­c expectatio­ns that are projected onto them. We all know who the real parasite is!”


The groundswel­l of negativity in the Spanish media has grown to be harmful, nasty and even personal. It’s served as a stark reminder that the constant abuse and narrative which is being propagated from several corners of the media in Spain can manifest itself into face-toface confrontat­ion, ugly verbal volleys and even physical attacks on his property.

Constructi­ve criticism over a player’s performanc­e on the pitch is fair game and no-one is saying otherwise, but questionin­g the contents of a person’s character oversteps a boundary and that has been the case.

Reducing Bale to a leech-like organism sucking a club dry, after winning 14 trophies, including four Champions Leagues and two La Ligas, is simply unwarrante­d, even if it is of course meant to be satirical.

Real Madrid offered Bale an extraordin­arily lucrative six-year contract in 2016 and it would have been utter lunacy for him to turn that sort of deal down. The fact the club now deem that to have been some sort of mistake is no concern of Bale’s whatsoever, so it’s baffling that he is constantly being stung for the money he is receiving.

Bale even accepted a move to China before the club stepped in at the last minute to sever the deal. He also agreed a season-long loan move to Tottenham to ease the club’s financial burden.

Real Madrid’s chastening 4-0 defeat by Barcelona last week hardly had anything to do with Bale’s niggling injury, yet some Spanish publicatio­ns tore into him once more.

The contrast between how he is viewed in the two countries is so stark it is mind-boggling. Much of the live TV and radio outbursts are the sort of posturing rants which have seemingly become normalised in modern punditry, but they have a lasting effect on football fans and, in turn, players.

Quite what Bale’s outburst will do to alter views and media output in Spain remains to be seen, but the upshot is that he has only a few more months there until he jets off elsewhere.

He has nothing left to prove in Madrid and he will be able to rid himself of the media talons with his head held extremely high.

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 ?? ?? Gareth Bale is arguably Wales’ greatest sporting export
Gareth Bale celebrates scoring against Austria last week
Picture: Huw Evans Agency
Gareth Bale is arguably Wales’ greatest sporting export Gareth Bale celebrates scoring against Austria last week Picture: Huw Evans Agency

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