Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale met with the media ahead of Saturday’s clásico with Barcelona at the Camp Nou. The Welsh international, who joined Madrid in 2014, says he is adapting well to his side’s style of play and life in Spain.
“I feel a greater sense of involvement with the country, with the language, with Madrid. I feel very comfortable at Real Madrid, I have a contract until 2019 and hope to win as much silverware as possible,” the former Tottenham Hotspur player told reporters in an interview at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground.
Few players can match the Cardiff-born 26-year-old when it comes to platitudes in interviews with the media. He has also kept his distance from the fans, which probably explains Wednesday’s press conference.
It’s going to be a difficult game. We’re going to have to play 100%
Real Madrid player Gareth Bale
The decision to wheel Bale out ahead of Real Madrid’s game on Saturday was deliberate. Club president Florentino Pérez sees Bale as a key part of the side’s future, the jewel in the crown around which he hopes to build a project to capture the imagination of fans next season. Real Madrid, currently in third place in Spain’s La Liga, is trailing leaders Barcelona by 10 points with eight games to go before the close of the season.
“I guess I’ve changed a little,” Bale said in response to questions about his recent absences. “Maybe last season I didn’t really fulfill my potential. This year I feel more settled. For me it’s important to work hard. I’ve integrated into the team. My playing has improved a little and that’s showing in the results on the field.”
Bale, signed for €100 million from Spurs in 2013, has scored 15 goals in 21 games this season. He puts his improvement down not only to better accuracy, but also to other factors such as speaking Spanish more fluently, which naturally has improved his ability to communicate with teammates on and off the field, resulting in an overall improvement in his soccer-playing skills.
Zinedine Zidane has improved Real’s performance since taking over from Rafael Benítez as coach in January, and Bale has praised the Frenchman’s approach in bringing the side together.
A myth debunked
“Spanish soccer is very different to the British game,” Bale explained. “In the Premier League there is a lot more space. But I think I am improving all the time. Last year left a bitter taste in my mouth and everything was very difficult. But those difficulties also made me stronger. I understand the game much better now and hope to be able to offer more in the future.”
Eventually, one reporter plucked up the courage to ask the question on everybody’s mind: “How can Madrid beat Barcelona?” This is a particularly sensitive issue for Bale, who scored the winning goal in the 2014 King’s Cup final, but has so far failed to produce a goal in the four clásicos against Barcelona he has played.
Sign up for our newsletter!
EL PAÍS English Edition is launching a weekly newsletter. Sign up today to receive a selection of our best stories in your inbox every Saturday morning. For full details about how to subscribe, click here.
“We have to score goals, not let any in and win the game,” he answered before smiling, perhaps shocking even himself with the obviousness of what he had just said. “It’s going to be a difficult game. We’re going to have to play 100%. That will mean attacking and exploiting Barcelona’s weaknesses. That’s the plan. I am confident that if we stick to it we can beat Barcelona.”
Before ending the press conference, Bale debunked one of the most enduring myths in Spain about his style of play: that he prefers to work the left side of the field. "Everyone knows I like to play centrally, where I can drift around. I like coming in off the right flank and having more freedom. I don't mind playing on the left, although I prefer playing centrally or on the right," Bale concluded.
At last, the truth is out.
English version by Nick Lyne.