Gareth Bale could be Real Madrid’s hero

Gareth Bale had a more eventful Sunday than most, scoring a brace and receiving a red card as Real Madrid were held to a 2-2 draw away to Villarreal on Sunday.

In doing so, the 30-year-old Welshman ended a 169-day league scoring drought, while becoming only the second Real Madrid player this century — after Cristiano Ronaldo did the same against Malaga in 2010 — to score a La Liga double and be sent off in the same match.

That Bale is still wearing the white of Los Blancos is noteworthy in its own right. His efforts at the Estadio de la Ceramica came just six weeks after manager Zinedine Zidane said that Bale’s departure from the Spanish capital was “very close” and would be “a good thing for everyone.”

Those comments were met with derision by the player’s agent who called Zidane a “disgrace,” saying he had shown “no respect for a player that has done so much for Real Madrid.”

A match made in heaven?

Despite previous hostilities, Zidane knows how to get the best out of his forward. Bale has now scored 37 top-flight goals under Zidane, nine more than he managed for Carlo Ancelotti, who signed Bale as a 24-year-old from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013 for a then world record fee of $120 million.

In the six intervening years Bale has struggled to establish himself as a fan favorite.

Though there have been moments of brilliance — a blistering solo goal against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final in 2014 and an acrobatic overhead stunner against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final — the Madrid faithful have sometimes turned to booing a player who has helped the club lift 13 trophies.

With fans’ criticism of a poor attitude exacerbated by his love of golf, Bale’s days in Spain appeared numbered.

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But with three years left on his reported $18.7 million per year contract, top European clubs were turned off by a player limited to just 79 league starts over the last four seasons because of persistent injury problems.

As such, the Chinese Super League appeared to be his most likely destination with a reported $1 million per week salary on offer.

That would have resulted in a premature step away from the elite table of world football for a player who looked primed to replace Ronaldo as the darling of the Bernabeu. With the European transfer window closing on Monday, Bale, for now at least, remains a Real Madrid player.

Zidane happy, for now

“I am happy for his goals and we keep going with the positive things,” Zidane said of Bale’s performance, which rescued a point for his side in the 86th minute. “We can’t be happy because we always look to win [but] it’s important not to lose.”

Bale’s first was a simple tap-in on the stroke of half time and pointed to a potential positional shift into a more rounded forward, mirroring the transition Ronaldo made from speedy wide player into devastating goal poacher.

His second was trademark Bale, cutting back on to his favored left foot before firing home past Andres Fernandez at his near post

Two minutes into stoppage time, Bale found his name in the referee’s book for a late lunge on Xavier Quintilla. Two minutes later, a dangerous high boot again made contact with Quintilla and a yellow card was followed by red.

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This was the first time in 482 senior club appearances that Bale was sent after two bookings, having been shown a straight red on two previous occasions.

On top of salvaging a point for Real, Bale draw level with Brazil’s Ronaldo with 104 league goals for the club.

Moving forward

Real remains unbeaten after three league games but, with just one victory and two draws, finds itself in fifth position, four points behind cross-town rival Atletico, which has a perfect record after three fixtures.

Barcelona is currently in eighth position with four points after drawing 2-2 away to Osasuna on Saturday.

Real’s next assignment comes on Saturday in the early kick-off against Levante. Last year, a late Marcelo goal was not enough to prevent a 2-1 defeat in front of its home fans.

Bale was absent that day and his teammates will once again have to do without their polarizing forward, who misses the game through suspension.