The Bernabeu’s newest galactico knew just what the moment required, and had learned enough Spanish to say his primary aim was to help deliver ‘La Decima’ — the club’s much longed for 10th European Cup trophy.
In case Bale had any doubts over why Madrid had been prepared to pay €100 million for him, club president Florentino Perez had earlier shown him through the Bernabeu’s museum, where the nine European Cup trophies already secured gleam.
Eight months later the Welsh winger can end 12 years of European disappointment for Madrid — and its all-powerful president — in tomorrow’s Champions League final against Atletico Madrid.
Speaking at Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground this week, the Welsh winger told the Irish Examiner this Decima dream could be about to come true.
“I knew about it when I first arrived, everybody was talking about it and stuff,” Bale said. “A club like Real Madrid wants to win the Champions League as many times as they can.
“They have won it nine times before and obviously want to win it again. I knew about ‘La Decima’ before I came. So it is an important game for the club, and we are all looking forward to it. We want to make our dreams come true by winning the Champions League.”
Bale was a boyhood Madrid fan, with a photo of him as a kid wearing a ‘galacticos’ era replica shirt displayed at his presentation last summer. He says now he well remembers watching TV as Zinedine Zidane’s stunning volley in the 2002 final against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park delivered ‘La Novena’ [the ninth].
“I was 12,” he smiled. “I cannot exactly remember where I was, but I remember watching it and seeing the goal that Zidane scored. Hopefully we can emulate that victory this Saturday and get the 10th.”
Now 24, Bale already has his own spectacular trophy-winning goal, after galloping 60 yards with the ball before finishing calmly late in April’s Copa del Rey final against Barcelona. Asked if that moment had lifted some of the pressure brought by his huge price-tag, he said openly that such things did not really play on his mind at all.
“I did not feel any weight,” Bale said. “I purely focus on playing football on the pitch, on working hard, and doing the best I can. A lot of people talk about this, that and the other, or the press putting pressure on you, but for me I purely focus on going out and playing football. I am the only one who can control that. I know that if I am focused on my football, then I will do a good job.”
That final winning goal came against Barcelona, a side whose high-defensive line leaves space behind which Bale — and his fellow Madrid galactico Cristiano Ronaldo — love to attack.
Diego Simeone’s more solid side are harder to catch on the break and have more than matched Madrid over the last year. Atletico won the Copa del Rey final against their richer city neighbours last June, while also taking four points from this season’s two La Liga clashes, although Los Blancos easily won last April’s Copa quarter-final.
Bale, who has not scored in his three appearances against the new La Liga champions to date, joked that Atletico’s aggression and intensity meant facing them felt more like a wrestling match than a football match.
“Atletico have proved over the season — the table does not lie — they have been the most consistent team,” he said. “They are very well organised defensively, and a very, very physical team. Our game at their place was almost like a wrestling match at some points. I think they have been good all season. They play good football as well, but their main strength is defence, how strong they are, and how physical they are all over the pitch. But as soon as you cross that white line, it is a game of football. We are going to be trying our utmost to win the game.”
Given the pressure of the occasion — and injury concerns over both Ronaldo and Atletico’s Diego Costa — the final is expected to be a tight affair, with extra-time and penalties a definite possibility.
That could mean last summer’s big money signing returns to the spotlight — perhaps having a chance to either win or lose the trophy during a shoot-out. He again seems unfazed by such a possibility.
“It is obviously a bit different to normal, but I am feeling good, feeling relaxed and confident,” Bale says. “To be in this position, to be able to play in a final, is exciting. For every footballer it is a dream to be able to do that. It comes down to the big moments in games, being able to take your chances when you have them. You have to step up, there is obviously a lot of pressure, but for us we want to win the title. If that means having to take a penalty then, yeah, we will have to do that.”
Whatever it takes. Bale — and Madrid — want La Decima.