The Welsh winger showed his worth as he set up a goal as soon as he came on and then created another as Los Blancos knocked out Fuenlabrada on Tuesday
There were whistles all around the stadium. Real Madrid’s youngsters were struggling at the Santiago Bernabeu and had created little of note when plucky Segunda B side Fuenlabrada came within inches of levelling the tie. It was time for action. It was time for Gareth Bale.
This had seemed likely to be a routine night for Los Blancos. With a 2-0 lead from the first leg, there appeared little danger of an upset, even as coach Zinedine Zidane picked an inexperienced side for the Copa del Rey clash.
There were some neat touches from some of Madrid’s young players, but they largely looked like a group of footballers who never play together. And that is essentially what they were. Fuenlabrada operated much more as a team and created chances in the first half when Real could not.
The visitors went in a goal up after a stinging shot by Luis Milla (son of the former Spanish international of the same name) was parried onto the crossbar by the returning Keylor Navas, who saw the ball rebound off his head and then his hand and into the net. It was a freak goal, but fully deserved for Fuenla.
But after the away team hit the bar in the second half, Zidane had seen enough. The Frenchman immediately responded by bringing on Bale for Franchu and the 28-year-old made an instant impact on his return from injury.
He had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds when he hit a delightful cross with the outside of his left foot which found Borja Mayoral at the far past to head home, much to the relief of the Real Madrid fans.
And a few minutes later, Bale’s flick took him into the box and although his shot was saved by Fuenla goalkeeper Pol Freixanet, Mayoral was there to roll in the rebound and make it safe at 4-2 on aggregate.
Bale has received much criticism during his time in Spain and has been targeted again by the Madrid media following his injury problems this season. He has also been booed by fans at the Bernabeu in the current campaign and on Tuesday, he was returning from another lengthy period on the sidelines.
“He wants to play the rest of his life at Real Madrid,” Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett said this week. “He loves Madrid, the city, the life, and he loves the club. Of course, it hurts him when the people don’t support him and they do with other players who aren’t so good.
“It’s crazy, this happens only in Spain and I don’t understand it. Fans should understand this and know how good he is.”
Those fans were given a glimpse on Tuesday of just what Bale can do and, on this form, he is definitely appreciated. Now the goal will be for him to stay fit for the rest of the season and help Madrid fight for the major prizes once again.