Carragher is wrong; Bale should stay at Real Madrid

Gareth Bale Picture by DSanchez17 www.flickr.com

Gareth Bale
Picture by DSanchez17
http://www.flickr.com

I’m a great admirer of Jamie Carragher. He was an excellent footballer, an inspirational Liverpool captain, and by all accounts he’s turning out to be a very fine pundit. I haven’t seen much of his punditry but I did read an article he wrote recently under the headline: ‘Gareth Bale should come home to the Premier League’ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3083586/JAMIE-CARRAGHER-Gareth-Bale-come-home-Premier-League-s-fight-t-win-Real-Madrid.html). Carragher is wrong and he’s mistaken in just about every line of argument he makes.

Here I consider each of the arguments that Carragher makes (I counted 15 in all) as to why Bale should bail out of Madrid and return to the welcoming arms of one of the Premier League’s premier teams.

  1. Bale would be assured legendary status elsewhere.

Possibly, but hardly a foregone conclusion. It’s not even obvious that he would be the most important player at the club if he signed for Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea. Besides, for the moment, Bale does not appear to want to be a legend elsewhere; he wants to be a legend at Real Madrid.

It is only twelve months since he scored in the Champions League final against Real’s city rivals to help his team land their coveted 10th European Cup win. It capped a magnificent first season for the Welshman in Madrid. He seemed well on the way to legendary status at the time. His star has undoubtedly dimmed in the Madrid galaxy since then but the notoriously fickle fans at the Bernabeu who have turned on Bale can swing back just as quickly to revering him.

  1. The Madrid fans love a scapegoat and Bale is now it.

It’s true that they do and Bale has been suffering at the hands of the white hanky brigade but he’s far from alone. The Madrid fans prefer a whole herd of scapegoats and Casillas and Ancelotti both currently find themselves in that pen as well. The goalkeeper and the manager are also both more likely to leave Madrid this summer than Bale in my opinion.

  1. Bale currently appears timid, lacking in confidence and has lost his spark.

This description would be apt for several Real Madrid performances of late. Since the turn of the year the team has not been functioning well and Bale’s confidence has understandably dropped along with many of his teammates (although I don’t think Ronaldo has ever had any problems in the confidence department). But are we really now suggesting that when a player loses confidence and a bit of spark the only thing to do is change clubs?

Confidence comes and goes even for the very best players in the world. It can come again for Bale as a Real Madrid player.

  1. This is about Bale’s career; no one benefits from him being unhappy.

One indifferent season does not define a career. This is not a career-defining summer for Gareth Bale. He’s 25 years old, playing for the club of his dreams, and challenging for trophies (he’s also a multimillionaire). If that’s unhappiness, I’ll take a bit of that thank you very much.

Bale may well decide to return to the Premier League at some point in the future and he has many years at the top of the game still ahead of him. It’s not an option he needs to take up right now.

  1. Bale can never compete with Ronaldo setting the agenda at Real Madrid.

True, he can’t, but I don’t believe he’s trying to. I’ve never met Gareth Bale but for the most expensive footballer in the world he seems like a remarkably humble guy. He knows who is king in Madrid and that he is merely a prince. Ronaldo could do more to help Bale (and the rest of the team) if he was a little less preening and self-absorbed. The Portuguese is a remarkable talent but not a natural leader.

  1. Bale will be measured against other world record signings at Madrid such as Ronaldo, Zidane and Figo.

Carragher’s implication is that Bale cannot hope to compare. He’s not as good as any of the three mentioned above and quite possibly never will be. The point though is that Bale has enough confidence that he wants to be measured against that sort of talent. He wants to be better and he’s pushed himself out of his comfort zone in a bid to improve. In my view there’s no doubt that he’s become a more complete player since he moved to Spain.

  1. Madrid is a culture shock for a shy boy like Bale, especially with the expectation to win the league and the Champions League every year.

It would be a major surprise if moving to a new country did not prove to be a bit of a culture shock. As an expat, I have some experience of this. Indeed, my wife and I had a bit of a culture shock when we visited Madrid. We decided to go out and see what Madrid nightlife had to offer. We turned up at a bar around midnight (thinking that things start a little later in Spain) only to discover that we were the only ones there. Apparently the locals don’t make an appearance until around 2am, after they’ve finished their dinner.

If Bale signed for one of the big English clubs he would face a similar level of expectation. They will all be eyeing the title next season and see themselves as at least contenders (with the possible exception of Manchester City) in the Champions League. Bale has nowhere to run or hide from expectation.

  1. Bale’s personality is not coming to the fore at Madrid.

I’m not entirely sure what Gareth Bale’s personality is and I’d be surprised if Carragher has a much better idea. Bale has never been the most demonstrative of players; he’s not one for shouting or screaming and being overly dramatic about things. He tends to let his football do the talking. Sadly, admittedly, some of that talk has been gibberish of late.

The only concern about Bale’s personality is if it’s leading him to become isolated at the Bernabeu. It’s widely reported that his Spanish remains about as good as my Croatian (that is to say not very – and I don’t even know how to say “not very” in Croatian) and that’s probably the most important thing for him to work on. This summer he should take a holiday, in Spain, and spend much of it taking Spanish lessons.

  1. One of the big English clubs would have been a step-up from Spurs but not such a huge one as Real Madrid.

This seems like more of an argument for not going to Madrid in the first place. Carragher is right of course, Real are bigger and better than any club in England right now and the culture shock wouldn’t have arisen if Bale had joined another English club.

But why reign in his ambition? He thought he was good enough to play for Real Madrid and he’s proved that he is. Even with his less impressive form this season, Bale has remained a regular starter at Real. Ancelotti trusts him and Bale trusted himself to play at that level.

  1. The Premier League has lost too many players to La Liga recently – Ronaldo, Alonso, Suarez – and Bale coming back would balance things a little.

This one’s easy, why should Gareth Bale care about that?

  1. Bale would have more influence in the Premier League than he has in La Liga.

Influence is a tough thing to measure. It may be the case that the style of play in England would suit Bale better (I think that’s true of attacking players more generally) but the influence he’s had in Spain should not be underestimated. Bale is one of those players who force the opposition to think about how they’ll cope with him just by his presence on the team sheet.

  1. Bale would automatically improve any English side he joined.

That’s true and there would be no shortage of suitors if he was put up for sale but let’s not forget that Bale improved the Real Madrid team when he joined. He’s kept his place in the team on merit. It is arguable that one of the big English clubs would build their team around him if he joined them in a way that Madrid won’t but I don’t think Bale sees that as necessary.

  1. He’s not been a failure at Madrid – he’s won 4 medals – so could return to England with his head held high.

He certainly could but those four medals tell a very important story. He wouldn’t have collected four medals at any of the top English clubs in the last two seasons and he almost certainly wouldn’t (yet) be a Champions League winner if he’d opted to stay in the Premier League rather than join Real.

Bale wants to be challenging for the biggest prizes in the game and there’s not many better places to do that from. In fact, there’s only one and it’s not in England. I don’t think Bale will be joining Barcelona any time soon though.

  1. Real Madrid does not suit everyone – think of Kaka, Robben and Sneijder.

That’s true of any club. Look at what happened to Torres after he left Liverpool. Bale has chosen to do it ‘his way’ at the Bernabeu and if he can make it there, he’ll make it anywhere. It’s a tough test for any player and probably the most demanding stage for a footballer to perform on. Bale hasn’t gone there to be an understudy and he can consider himself a headline act in his own right.

  1. It would be good to see Bale playing with happiness again.

On this point, Carragher and I agree. I just happen to believe that he can find happiness again at Real Madrid.

A year ago Bale was preparing for a Madrid derby Champions League final. He scored a crucial goal in that game. The Real Madrid fans waved white flags rather than white hankies and chanted his name. Platini put a Champions League winner’s medal around his neck.

This year he wears the burden of his record transfer fee around his neck. There will be no all-Spanish Champions League final this season, no medal to add to Bale’s collection. I’m sure he’ll watch the game on TV and wish he was there.

But if he wants to be back in the Champions League final next year he’d be better off staying in Madrid than heading back to England.

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The Monday Post – 24/11/14

Jurgen Klopp. Photo by: Asia Joanna www.flickr.com

Jurgen Klopp. Photo by: Asia Joanna
http://www.flickr.com

After the international break, attention returned to the domestic scene and I’m going to focus on three very high profile managers who find themselves under pressure following disappointing results at the weekend: Brendan Rodgers, Arsene Wenger, and Ally McCoist.

Liverpool lost 3-1 at Crystal Palace and after the game Rodgers admitted “I’m not arrogant enough to think that I will be in a job through anything, any manager will tell you that you have to win games and you have to get results.” The results that he’s been getting this season have been very poor ones.

One unusual aspect of yesterday’s debacle was that a Liverpool striker actually scored. Lambert, long overdue a run in the side, put Liverpool ahead very early on but they then got “bullied” out of the game as Jamie Carragher put it. The former Liverpool player blasted his old club for being “mentally and physically weak.” It’s a charge that they don’t have much defence against at the moment.

There’s no doubt that Liverpool are currently suffering a critical deficit in confidence. Rodgers said: “You could see our passing was a wee bit tentative, and then we make mistakes. Mistakes you wouldn’t expect to see from a team that’s supposed to be challenging. We failed to manage the game.”

That seems a fair summation of Liverpool’s season to date: a bit tentative, far too many unforced errors, and too many games that they seem to have let drift by rather than imposing themselves on.

I’ve written before that Liverpool massively overachieved last season (and many of their rivals considerably underachieved) and this season was always going to prove a stern test of character. How many of Liverpool’s squad really thought the team would challenge for the title this season? I suspect not many.

Rodgers knows he now finds himself under pressure and that’s clear from the comments he made in the post-match interview. His team faces a huge Champions League game in midweek and anything less than a win will see the pressure intensify.

In my view the manager deserves more time, his achievements last season have earned him that along with the general improvement that has taken place in his time at the club. The injuries to Sturridge have been a huge blow but Rodgers could have compensated better by playing Balotelli and Lambert together more often.

His dealings in the transfer market have been disappointing so far and it’s unlikely that he’ll get many more transfer windows to get it right and sign the quality of player needed to make the starting 11 stronger. For now though his job should be safe and I think it will be.

Another man feeling the heat at the beginning of what looks like another winter of discontent is Arsene Wenger. There are actually quite a few similarities between the Frenchman and Rodgers: both have very clearly defined footballing philosophies, both pride themselves on the aesthetics of how their teams play, and both have struggled in the transfer market.

Arsenal’s home loss to Manchester United on Saturday saw Wenger’s detractors back out in vocal force. Piers Morgan called 606 and suggested “it’s a heartbreaking divorce, but divorce it has to be.” I don’t think anyone takes Morgan very seriously in any sphere these days, if they ever did, so I doubt Wenger will lose very much sleep over his comments.

His sleep cannot be entirely undisturbed however by the way his team is playing. The problems confronting Liverpool are equally applicable to Arsenal. The spine of Wenger’s team is soft and until he strengthens it little is likely to change at the Emirates except eventually the manager.

Wenger will always be an Arsenal legend and rightly so but I think Arsenal do now need a new boss in order to make serious progress. Dortmund’s Klopp is being heavily linked with Arsenal, and to a lesser extent Liverpool, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was managing somewhere in England by the start of next season if not sooner.

Apparently stewards removed a ‘Wenger Out’ sign during the game as they feared it would spark tensions among the crowd. That’s just about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Speaking of ridiculous, one Arsenal fan found the tension so much that they threw some red wine at the Manchester United bench. Those sat there must have been glad it wasn’t a prawn sandwich projectile aimed in their direction.

Arsenal are already out of contention for the league and are very unlikely to win the Champions League. I think this will be Wenger’s last season in charge.

Another man who could use a glass of red to calm the tensions today is Ally McCoist. Rangers lost 2-0 to Hearts and are now nine points behind the Tynecastle outfit. I saw an online poll run by one Scottish newspaper which showed a clear majority suggesting that McCoist should go.

There’s not the time or space here to go into the calamity of Rangers in recent years. The club has been an omnishambles and the manager has been one of very few to emerge from the period with any credit whatsoever. He has been dragging Rangers back from the depths of Scottish football and while it has not always been pretty, so far he has got the job done.

He more than deserves the chance to try and finish the job of getting his club back into the top flight. One thing’s for sure, Jurgen Klopp will not be managing at Ibrox next season.