At the end of last summer, the footballing world was given the most expensive man in the world since Cristiano Ronaldo: Gareth Bale. After a complicated three month long transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid, Bale commanded the largest transfer fee in history: $123 million.
The most appealing aspect of moving to Madrid for Bale was the opportunity to play Champions League soccer, the most competitive league in the world, comprised of the 32 best teams in Europe. Many players transfer to top tier European clubs for the purpose of Champions League action, but rarely do they reach the final in their inaugural season.
In 2012, Luka Modrić, Tottenham’s most talented player at the time, transferred to Real Madrid. Modrić bounced around the team sheet without finding stability in the starting lineup. Madrid was eliminated from the Champions League in the semi-final, bringing Modrić’s unimpressive season to a bitter end. One year later, after adding another of Tottenham’s finest, Real Madrid will face their inner-city rivals, Athlético Madrid, on May 24 in Lisbon, Portugal, for the final battle of the season. The task at hand: to hoist the Champions League trophy at the end of the night.
On May 7, Madrid could have taken control of the Spanish League title as well, but failed to find a winner in a 1-1 draw against one of the weakest teams in the league. Gareth Bale, who picked up an injury in the previous league game, could only watch his teammates struggle from the privacy of his home. To make matters worse, in the ninth minute of the match, even before the Spanish Giants opened up the scoring, Madrid’s ferocious front man, Cristiano Ronaldo, was subbed out due to an injury. For the next two weeks, the club will be focused on ensuring Ronaldo’s 100% fitness for his return home to Portugal for the Champions League final. However, the manager of Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti, is worried that Ronaldo’s body may not be ready for the grueling combat of the Champions League final.
The speedy Welsh winger will enter the Estádio do Sport e Benfica on the night of May 24th with 11 Champions League appearances under his belt, during which he racked up five goals and four assists in 753 minutes on the field. These stats are not bad for a debut season, but under ten goals is not expected of an $123 million man.
Ronaldo is heading into the final with 16 goals in ten appearances, which puts his name atop the Champions League seasonal goal record. With or without Ronaldo playing on the opposite wing, Bale has 90 minutes (possibly more) to prove that he is truly the most valuable player in the world.
Taking home the Champions League trophy will always be easier with Cristiano Ronaldo on your side. But if Ronaldo is not ready for the match, Bale, who is his assumed successor at Madrid, will have the chance to put on the performance of a lifetime, and eternally engrave his name in the history of Real Madrid.