A friend in Spain said something wise to me the other day. She said: “I believe it should be mandatory for people to live abroad for at least one year. They should be made to experience what it is like to live in another country. To be an immigrant and experience the ups and downs of life in another country.”
She’s right. As it used to be with National Service, I suggest making people of a certain age live overseas. I’ve done so for fourteen years. That friend of mine for twenty five. Unlike her I would actually suggest a period of at least three years. True, it’s too late for some. Many of those of my age are no longer adaptable to change. But younger people are. Believe me when I tell you that living abroad is the greatest education they would ever have.
Gareth Bale left the UK when he was young. The former Southampton and Tottenham footballer has thoroughly enjoyed living in Spain since he signed for Real Madrid in September of 2013. Yet the supporters of that club have never truly accepted him.
It happens. I know only too well that whether or not an immigrant to Spain is accepted by the locals can depend on where you live, writes Vernon Grant.
As is the case in England and Wales, how welcome a foreigner is made to feel will depend on location. Live in London, no problem. Move to a more narrow minded, xenophobic part of England and you’re likely to be told to ‘go home.’
Being a top class footballer does not protect you from being resented. Gareth Bale is a ‘Guiri.’ A pejorative term reserved for foreigners in Spain. In a more polite version of the definition of guiri, Gareth Bale and I are “foreigners who talk shit.” Spaniards believe guiris know little and care nothing about Spanish customs. Or they are, if tourists, people who walk around in mid afternoon temperatures of 40 degrees and want to eat dinner at 7pm.
I watched the very first game Gareth Bale played for Real Madrid and I did so in the company of a senior Spanish friend, a former footballer himself, and lifelong supporter of Los Blancos. He laughed at Bale’s performance, as did the rest of the local bar. I sensed from that moment on that Bale would struggle to win over the Madrileños.
I admire Gareth Bale for the manner in which he dealt with playing second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo for so very long. Their first greeting (as photographed above) was a warm one. But the relationship between Bale and Ronaldo soon deteriorated. It got to the point where they didn’t pass the ball to each other.
If Bale scored, Ronaldo did not join in the celebrations. If Bale went for goal and missed, there was Cristiano with his arms aloft, complaining that Bale did not pass the ball to him. As always, the Portuguese star was playing to the crowd who loved him.
Ronaldo resented Bale for scoring this wonderful goal in the final of the Champions League against Liverpool. He feared it topped his own brilliant overhead kick goal in the quarter final against Juventus in Turin.
Immediately after that victory both players were interviewed on the pitch. Ronaldo gave clues to his impending exit from Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Bale, meanwhile, gave the impression that he would only stay at Real Madrid if he was seen as the natural full time replacement for Ronaldo.
Bale was weary of being the best supporting actor. He craved the lead role and, in my opinion at least, he had earned the chance to prove he was capable of filling the shoes of Ronaldo. Injuries came and went and definitely disturbed his progress. There was a period of time when he was in the medical room more often than he was on the field of play.
But Bale was determined to overcome injuries and make a significant contribution to Real Madrid. I believe he has done that. Real Madrid fans do not.
I also admire Bale for the manner in which he transformed his body strength by spending countless extra hours in the gym. Look at the photographs of him at Tottenham and upon his arrival in Spain and compare those to the way he looks now.
Gareth Bale is a much stronger and better player for having joined Real Madrid. Despite that, the fans are jeering him when he comes on as a sub, while booing him if he starts a match and is then taken off.
Real Madrid supporters were never prepared to accept Gareth Bale as one of their own. They were biased against him from the get go. They choose to overlook magical moments like this one.
Some of his colleagues are among those spreading negative comments about him. Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Courtois are quoted as saying that Gareth makes little or no effort to communicate and spends all his spare time playing golf, rather than mixing with them. Ramos in particular has been badmouthing his colleague to any journalist who hangs on his every word.
I know, however, that Luka Modric for one does count Bale as a friend and does socialise with him. I also believe that fellow striker Karim Benzema gets on with Bale.
Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett angered Real fans when he said: “This generation of Real fans will be talking about Gareth’s goals for years to come. Frankly they should be ashamed of themselves. Gareth deserves the greatest of respect. The way the Real fans have treated Gareth is nothing short of a disgrace.
“In the six years he has been in Spain, he has won everything. He’s one of the best players in the world. Those fans should be kissing his feet.”
Given his choice, Gareth Bale would stay where he is and start every game. He enjoyed working with and playing for Carlo Ancelotti. He believes no subsequent manager has fully appreciated what he can offer. He loves life in Spain but you’d have to think that following the catastrophic season the club has had any new or returning manager would be looking to sell players.
The previously unthinkable may happen. Jose Mourinho may return to Real Madrid. If that happens then Sergio Ramos has to leave. He was one of the leading players to demand Mourinho was sacked the first time around.
Reports on Thursday suggest Zinedine Zidane has rejected an approach to make a speedy return. That will be good news for Bale. While Zidane led Real Madrid to three successive Champions League (La Duodécima), he was no more of a fan of Bale than the fans.
Whether Bale stays or leaves, he’s not to blame for the current demise of Real Madrid.
This is the end of a great era for Real Madrid. But if you live long enough you soon learn that football fortunes are cyclical. Real Madrid will be back. As will Gareth Bale.
Speaking personally I hope he returns to play out his remaining years in England. It’s likely only Manchester City could afford him. It doesn’t matter how much you are paid in any job, you need to feel appreciated. He’s not feeling the love from Real Madrid fans. Perhaps he should get his own back on them. Why not join the club that has now won more El Clásico clashes than Real Madrid.
I feel sure supporters of FC Barcelona would overlook the years Bale has spent with ‘the enemy’ and welcome him as one of their own. His game is more likely to suit the attractive way Barça play football.
Now there’s a provocative thought from a fellow Guiri!