Prior to the 2014 Copa del Rey final between Real Madrid and Barcelona, much of the debate focussed on the recent indifferent form of the Catalan team and the fitness issues of Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo. With the Portuguese striker eventually declared as unfit to play, there was speculation the team would lack that vital cutting edge and match winning capabilities in his absence. This scenario appeared to overlook the possibility that Gareth Bale could replace their injured talisman in such an important match.
Ever since Bale arrived at Real Madrid following his reported £85 million transfer from Tottenham Hotspur in September 2013, he has struggled to establish himself as one the mainstays of the home attack. With Ronaldo and Karim Benzema already entrenched as the main spearheads of the Madrid strike force, Bale appeared to be acting more in a supporting role.
Yet Bale has registered 14 league goals this season with another 5 added in the Champions League and so cannot be accused of being a lightweight within the Real Madrid squad. Perhaps with the almost permanent focus on Ronaldo’s importance to the team, it has allowed Bale to experience a more low-key adaptation to his career in Spain which seems to have benefited both the Welshman and his new club.
Taking to the field for such an important ‘EL Clasico’ final without their leading striker who has netted 28 league goals this team, Madrid supporters feared the worst against a Barcelona team hurting from two prior defeats and desperate to restore some credibility to their season.
An early goal by Angel Di Maria suggested that Real Madrid could cope without Ronaldo but when they failed to add to their lead, there was always the possibility that an equaliser would materialise.
The equaliser duly arrived in the second half and there was a sense that Barcelona had regained momentum with further goals possible especially from the previously subdued Lionel Messi.
It is at such times that heroes are born and when Bale seized the ball with five minutes remaining to sprint half of the length of the pitch to finally stab the ball past Barcelona ‘keeper Jose Pinto, his name became etched in Real Madrid folklore, as his team clinched the trophy via a 2-1 victory. It was typical of so many goals netted by Bale during his Tottenham days but seldom witnessed on the big stage in Madrid.
Obviously, one special goal does not signal the arrival of Gareth Bale as a Real Madrid legendary figure as he will need to produce equivalent performances over period of time to justify that status.
Cristiano Ronaldo has already achieved cult following in the city, but in his absence on Wednesday night, Bale finally demonstrated that he can also endear himself to the Madrid faithful and that bodes well for the future success of the team.