Blog by: Yash
The transfer saga of the summer is finally over, as Gareth Bale sealed his world-record move to Real Madrid for a reported fee of £86 million. It has been a remarkable transformation for the player, who failed to win his first 24 League games for Tottenham Hotspur, and was termed as “flop” in 2009 when linked with a move away from Spurs for a mere £3 million.
The question that’s on the mind of most is how Bale will fit into the star-studded Madrid line-up and whether he will be able to justify his price-tag with his performances. It will be interesting to see how Bale links up with Cristiano Ronaldo in the Madrid side, with Bale known to be a huge admirer of Ronaldo, and their playing styles being very similar – superb shooting from distance and powerful forward runs.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti has prior experience in managing teams overflowing with talent. He played Inzaghi, Zidane and Del Piero in the same team while in-charge at Juventus. At AC Milan, he got Kaka, Shevchenko and Crespo to play together. Even while at Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain, he had to manage teams which were full of big names. Yet, the task of fitting Bale into the Madrid team, and getting both Bale and Ronaldo to function well in his system will give Ancelotti a lot to ponder about.
Real Madrid’s assistant coach Paul Clement has said that the tag of world’s most expensive player doesn’t guarantee Bale a starting spot in the team. However, it will be naive to think that Real Madrid splurged all that cash just to keep Bale on bench and we can expect tactics to be tweaked to get a position for Bale in the team. The fact that Bale offers versatility in terms of various roles in which he can play will come in handy for the team management.
Originally bought by Spurs to play as a left-back, Bale blossomed when he was moved by Harry Redknapp to the left-wing position and a hat-trick against Inter Milan in the Champions League made everyone take note of him. When Andre Villas-Boas took charge at Spurs last season, he moved Bale to the centre of the midfield, giving him a license to roam freely and attack for goals. The strategy worked well for Bale as he scored 21 goals last season which ignited Real Madrid’s interest in him.
With the Real Madrid likely to continue playing with the 4-2-3-1 formation that was used by Jose Mourinho, and Ronaldo favouring to play on the left, the starting position for Bale is most likely to be on the right wing of the midfield. The prospect of Bale cutting inside on his left foot from the right and Ronaldo cutting inside from the left on his right foot, and both switching positions in a fluid system will cause all opposition teams nightmares. But the success of this system largely depends on how effective Bale is on the right flank, and how well does the duo of Bale and Ronaldo gel with each other and the other players.
Carlo Ancelotti can explore the idea of playing Bale in the centre of the midfield in the 4-2-3-1 formation, to allow him to reprise his role at Spurs where he was extremely successful. But with Isco’s success in the position this season means that Ancelotti will think twice before moving him out of that role. Also, playing Bale in the centre of the midfield could mean that Ronaldo cutting inside from the left and Bale cutting left from the centre would probably come in each other’s way. Hence despite the centre mid being Bale’s most effective position, it is probably unlikely that he will get to play there at Madrid.
Ancelotti is unlikely to stick to only one system and he will look at the 4-4-2 formation at some stage, and has already deployed Ronaldo in the supporting striker’s role at times this season. While this system almost certainly assures goals for the team from both Ronaldo and Bale, Ronaldo doesn’t prefer playing in the position, and Ancelotti would risk upsetting the player at his peril.
Bale has demonstrated his ability to adapt when given new roles, and he could be tried out in the false-number 9 position. But Bale is likely to miss using the wide open spaces of the flank in this role, and the success of this move will depend on how well Bale adapts to the position, and whether he is happy playing there.
There had been talks of exploring the idea of deploying Bale at the left-back position, where he began his career, in the Madrid line-up back in 2010, when he first made headlines. In Spain, the left-back’s role is usually more like a wing-back with attacking duties, as illustrated by Dani Alves and Marcelo in recent times. Though Real Madrid didn’t pay £86 million to play him as left-back, they can certainly utilize the skills of Bale to play in that role when required.
Bale’s flexibility will be a huge advantage for Real Madrid, and Carlo Ancelotti is likely to ask him to adapt once again as he tries to fit Bale into the Madrid machine and get the system running quickly. The greatest of teams require a proper structure and balance to succeed, and with Bale, Ronaldo and all the other stars, Ancelotti has one big balancing act to do to bring out the best from the team.