I am, at heart, a mild-mannered Bieldside boy – but Gareth Bale is doing a fine job of turning me into some sort of Victor “Mr Angry” Meldrew.
If I’m not spluttering expletives and turning the air blue in his defence, given the rubbish which is often written or spoken about him, then Bale’s acting infuriatingly and undercutting those of us who not only appreciate his achievements in La Liga but spend time trying to educate the biased and the stupid about them.
The “I don’t believe it!” moment this week, of course, came when the Welshman combined winning three vital points for Real Madrid, thanks to his cheekily-taken penalty at Levante, with acting like a self- indulgent prima-donna from a reality show.
Since returning from injury Bale has only started twice in eight matches for three specific reasons.
One: Vinicius’ form has erupted.
He’s genuinely superb, he’s helped turn Madrid’s season around and the Bernabéu already absolutely adore him.
If Santi Solari were to start Bale and drop Vinicius there’d be a *horse’s head on the pillow beside him when he woke up one morning (*no animals were harmed in the writing of this column).
Two: Solari adores the blue-collar, sleeves-rolled-up work ethic he gets from Lucas Vazquez on the other wing.
The 27-year-old started once under Julen Lopetegui then, since the Basque was sacked, has been in the XI in 11 of his 12 Liga appearances since then.
Three: Bale doesn’t work hard enough.
His impact can be sublime, he’s a terrific athlete, he has an absolutely eerie ability to produce a crucial goal in vital games … but he doesn’t track back, tackle or stay positionally concentrated quite enough.
So, last Sunday. Madrid face Valencia’s “other” club, Levante, who beat them in the Bernabeu last time out.
Bale is benched, he’s warming up, a kid, 20-year-old Uruguayan Fede Valverde, is chosen as first sub to go on for Toni Kroos.
Bale stops warming up, sits on the bench, sulks, is urged to get back to the warm-up by fellow players and the fitness coach.
TV cameras show him looking angry and bemused. Slighted. To go with all his other injuries, now his ego has been sprained.
Five minutes later he’s brought on, scores from the spot and petulantly shrugs off the congratulations from everyone, but especially Lucas (with whom he’s perfectly friendly normally).
Stone-faced, he’s chosen to behave like Cristiano “I’m not happy and the world needs to know it” Ronaldo.
In a week when Carlo Ancelotti revealed that the beginning of the end for him at Madrid came when he subbed Bale off for being too selfish to pass to Karim Benzema (a row with Florentino Perez began immediately) … in a week when Marcelo and Thibaut Courtois both spoke drily, if not disparagingly, about Bale in interviews, this fit of pique was ill-judged, immature and ill-befitting him as a very special player.
Toughen up, Gareth.