The banner is a laugh. And yet, importantly, the Welshman surely knows that most in Madrid wont find it funny
It was Pedja Mijatovic who started it. One night on the radio, the former Real Madrid player and sporting director said he hadn’t spoken to Gareth Bale but the impression he got was that his priorities were Wales, golf, and Madrid- and in that order. That sounded pretty good to Wales fans, already on his side. Ballads followed swiftly and so did the flags. One of them observed its way on to the pitch and into the players’ hands as they celebrated reaching Euro 2020. Dancing about and grinning right behind it is Bale, enjoying the silliness of everything is, the caption encompassing half his body:” Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order .”
Bale had said he was aware of the chant, the slogan, and here it was in black and white( and green and red ).” I’ve heard it, especially when I was on the bench, and the boys were chuckling ,” he explained.” It’s a good bit of fun .” Which it may be to him, although there is something pointed in it too, but a lot of people don’t see the funny side. Some of them are at the Santiago Bernabeu: Madrid are not amused. This has not pleased anyone there, but nor has it solely astounded them: there is a sense that this does not break anything, precisely; it merely underlines that something was already broken. It was a joke, they know, but not in great taste and with a message attached to it- if merely because he didn’t distance himself from it.
Yet if they didn’t see the funny side, many didn’t see the point either- starting with the fact that this is a message delivered tongue in cheek.” Bale taunts/ contempts/ elicits Real Madrid” the many, many headlines run on Wednesday morning. But it is not so much Real Madrid that line mocks as what some see as the media agenda against him. Often, the media here claims to speak in name of supporters, and there is something in that, many of them far from happy with Bale, but some Madrid fans espouse the words of the Wales fans: they see it instead as someone poking fun at the media and the sometimes toxic environment around the club, saying the things that too few in Spain will say.
At times, the coverage has been a little daft and very pointed, it is true. Golf has become a go joke, a punchline flogged to death. At hours it can feel like no one can resist, endlessly resorting to some forced golfing reference. As if enjoying a round was the most heinous of crimes, eclipsing all else, definitive proof that he only doesn’t care. La Libreta de Van Gaal, a comedy podcast dedicated to the sillier moments in the sports media, put together a montage of golf-related sentences handed down to Bale, accompanied by the sound of a swinging club. There clips were many- and that’s just the ones that stimulated it into the show.
There is something of that in this banner, mocking the press: you want golf? You call him the golfer? Here, take golf.
One front page of the sports daily AS listed three things he had done that concerned Madrid- pushing for a January departure, wanting to play for Wales after a few months out, leaving matches early and heading off to London rather than training- and used a photo of him on the golf course.” Triple Bogey ,” the headline read.” I’ve never had one of those in my life ,” Bale said, laughing.” At least make it an albatross .” He claimed that he doesn’t read anything; occasionally, though, friends send him” funny images “. There have been a lot of them; countless column inches and hours of radio and TV.
When Bale recently said that playing with Wales was different, that was seized upon as proof too. Few listened to the original statements, which were reasonable enough, and not offered up directly in response to the difference between playing for club and country but the idea of breaking out of the “robotic” chore of professionalism. He talked about how playing with men he had known since they were kids was like being down the park on a Sunday, a kickabout with friends. He insisted that did not mean he ever dedicated anything less than his all, whoever he was playing for. He also said it was easier in his own language- another stick with which he is beaten. But there it was: more proof that he likes Wales more, ergo he doesn’t like Madrid at all.
The banner is a laugh. And yet, importantly, Bale surely knows that most won’t find it funny. He knows it can damage his relationship there, that it will wind many up. The thing is, he does not appear to care. Or perhaps more accurately, he does care: he seems to welcome it, enjoy making a point or having others make it for him. Many a true term said in jest and all that. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there’s something pointed in this too, a stiffen of the fuck. As if he embraces the irritation it causes. Make no mistake, while there’s an element of poking fun at the press, some of this is aimed at the club too.
In the summer, he had been on the verge of a departure to China, merely for the bargain to break down when Madrid changed their demands. So, he bided and started this year. He played reasonably well, too. The fans even applauded him, having whistled him last year. He’d been go, everyone supposed, especially him, but there he was. It might have been a second chance, a fresh start; but it wasn’t. There was a hangover from everything that went before, which was only deepened by the fact that his departure had not been completed after Zidane had publicly welcomed that departure.” I’m playing, but I wouldn’t say I’m playing blithely ,” he said at the start of the season.
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