Cristiano Ronaldo will again attempt to break Real Madrid’s scoring record on Saturday, but the buildup to the match has been dominated by fresh speculation about his relationship with teammate Gareth Bale. Ronaldo remains tied with Raul on 323 goals for the Spanish giants, yet his pursuit of the historic achievement has been distracted by potentially inflammatory comments from Bale’s agent.
Ever since Bale succeeded Ronaldo as the most expensive player in history when moving to the Spanish capital in 2013, there have been rumors of a lack of rapport between the two stars. And that has been reignited, not for the first time, by the man who brokered Bale’s transfer, Jonathan Barnett.
“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine,” he told The Guardian. “There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”
It follows Barnett’s statement in May that Bale’s difficult second season at the Bernabeu was in large part down to his teammates not passing him the ball enough. And, according to Madrid-based sports daily AS, Ronaldo has taken offense to Barnett’s latest words. Unsurprisingly, Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez is thought to have immediately attempted to mediate. Radio station Cadena SER reported that the Spaniard, who replaced Carlo Ancelotti this summer, called Bale for clarification that the Welshman had no problem with his teammate, before requesting that he cleared things up with Ronaldo face-to-face.
Later Benitez played down the issues between his two forwards.
“There’s no problem between Cristiano and Bale; at Real Madrid, everything tends to get magnified -- sometimes because of jealousy or to attack the club, and that surprises me,” he told Onda Cero. “I always send the players text messages when they are with their national sides; there is no problem at all between them.”
More than the Barnett’s comments, the bigger concern for Benitez will surely be how the off-the-field talk reflects the duo’s relationship on the pitch. While personality-wise they may be very different, as the headline of an editorial in AS aptly describes it, they are “two roosters in one coup.”
They are two individualists, both supreme dribblers with a penchant for the spectacular who thrive on being the focal point on the pitch. Bale had been a one-man band for Tottenham before coming into Real Madrid and having to play second fiddle to the man who rules the Real Madrid roost. He has also just been the central figure in firing Wales to their first major championship in 58 years, scoring seven of his team’s 11 goals in Euro 2016 qualifying.
Whereas Neymar and Luis Suárez have been able to adapt and thrive when going into Lionel Messi’s team at Barcelona, Bale and Ronaldo have struggled to complement each other in the same way. It was one of the first things Benitez sought to address when taking charge. In an effort to try and get the most out of Real Madrid’s huge investment, Bale was moved into the No. 10 role, where he would be more involved than when stationed out on the right wing. Ahead of an injury last month his statistics were good, the 26-year-old scored twice and produced three assists in three matches.
But the jury remains out on the success of the switch. In a position where linking up the play is crucial, it is arguable that two of his teammates, James Rodríguez and Isco would be more suited to the role. Both certainly share more stylistic similarities than Bale to Mesut Özil, who Ronaldo relished threading passes through to him during the German star's time at the Bernabeu.
And, although he is nearing yet another scoring milestone, Ronaldo’s form this season has been patchy. All five of his La Liga goals this season came in a single game, in a 6-0 drubbing of Espanyol.
Benitez may have diffused the latest rumblings between his stars off the pitch, but with Bale fit and ready to return to the lineup, he will again have to set about solving the conundrum of how to maximize their talent toward the goals of a coherent team.