Bale reminds Zidane and Real Madrid how simplicity can be sublime

By Sports Desk August 17, 2019

Having started on the right, Gareth Bale drifted to the lift, cavorted into space and set up Karim Benzema. One-nil to Real Madrid.

Football seems a simple game at times.

It would be doing a disservice to Bale to dismiss his role in this goal as entirely straightforward. The pace he used to reach Marcelo's throughball, the speed of close control that left David Costas spinning on the spot, the weight of cross to give Benzema an easy finish – it was all of the highest quality.

It also showed why Zinedine Zidane was correct to put faith in Bale to deliver in this LaLiga opener at Celta Vigo, despite the prolonged, exasperating uncertainty over his future. From benchwarmer at the end of last season, to Zidane telling everyone it would be better for Bale to leave in July, to a transfer to Jiangsu Suning that never happened, to a place back in the starting line-up for the first game of the new season – it's been a chaotic three months.

That's the issue with Bale, of course: everything about him seems to get more complicated – and more dramatic – in the inexorable scrutiny in which he lives his life.

Coaches everywhere have specific ideas that mean certain players become surplus to requirements, but Zidane versus Bale has sometimes been billed as a spat so venomous it's left poison dripping from the dressing-room walls. Footballers like to do things in their spare time apart from play football, like have a game of golf; when Bale picks up his irons, it's considered tantamount to a betrayal of professional decency. That's how it can feel from the outside, which maybe gives you an indication of why Bale so rarely bothers speaking out in public. Those waters can't get much muddier.

The truth of Bale's position at Madrid is probably less complicated than some think – and that is a good summary of what makes Bale the footballer so effective. It's why he was fleetingly impressive at Balaidos on Saturday in a battling 3-1 win, even if Madrid as a collective sometimes looked little better than the ragged bunch who shipped seven goals to Atletico Madrid last month.

Bale's assist was borne of him being as direct as possible: running behind the full-back, using a step-over and twist of the body to shake off the marker with the ball still in motion, and crossing into a dangerous zone with that precise left foot. Later in the half, he overtook Lucas Olaza when chasing a long ball despite the defender having close to a three-metre head start. It was an awesome display of speed and fitness from a man who has not exactly had a busy pre-season.

Moments after Madrid's opener, he was blocking a cross in his own box after racing back to protect the nervy Alvaro Odriozola. That's something he isn't so used to doing, but it came from the same sort of focused approach that makes him so clinical at the other end. You watch, you run, you act – shoot, cross, or, in this case, tackle. This is what Bale offers; it's what he has always offered.

The issue of his future isn't likely to get any clearer until the transfer window closes on September 2, but this game at least showed what a tremendous asset Bale can be when he is deployed with simple precision. For a coach like Zidane, who freely admits he is not the most pedantic of tacticians, that makes Bale valuable – especially in a Madrid team as muddled as this one.

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