He may speak little or no Spanish, but it is telling that one of the few phrases Gareth Bale has uttered in the language of his new home following his record transfer to Real Madrid was “La Decima.” The quest to lift the European Cup for an unprecedented 10th time has become an obsession at the Bernabeu. Jose Mourinho’s inability to deliver it has meant that his time at the club, despite encompassing a league title, has been marked down as a failure.
The standards at Los Merengues, as Bale is finding out, are higher than at any other club in the world. In the past two weeks Madrid have spent huge money to try and ensure that they return to the pinnacle of the European game after what has been an unacceptable drought of 11 years without winning the Champions League.
Not only has Bale been signed in a move that harks back to the Galacticos era, but Cristiano Ronaldo has been made the highest-paid player in the world in order to appease the Portuguese star. The dressing-room dynamics promise to be a fascinating subplot to Madrid’s season, with some sources claiming that Ronaldo will earn close to twice as much as the star new recruit.
We will soon find out how it will all pan out. The quest to see if Madrid’s undeniable glitzy pieces can fit together to make a Champions-League winning team begins on Tuesday with a trip to Istanbul and a meeting with Turkish champions Galatasaray.
There was a mixed start for the new-look team at the weekend. Both Bale and Ronaldo scored, but the side lacked balance and newly promoted Villarreal were well worth their 2-2 draw. Bale started the Liga clash, despite missing almost all of pre-season, but Ancelotti has stated that the Wales international is no certainty to start in Turkey.
“It’ll be more or less the same as the side that played against Villarreal,” he said, according to Spanish publication AS. “[Alvaro] Arbeloa has recovered and we’ll see how he trains today. We have to be careful with Bale, because he played 60 minutes [against Villarreal] after a difficult pre-season. He didn’t have any problems after the match, but we have to think about it a little before putting him on the pitch. We’ll see on Tuesday.”
The most controversial selection issue Ancelotti has faced since taking the reins, though, has been over who to start in goal. It was widely expected that the Italian would restore club icon Iker Casillas to the role of first-choice goalkeeper after the Spain international’s problems with Mourinho last season. Instead, Diego Lopez has continued between the sticks. The former Sevilla man was outstanding against Villarreal and Ancelotti had some fun with journalists about whether he was going back on his word that Casillas would make his first start of the season on Tuesday.
“I’ve changed my mind: Diego Lopez is going to play, he laughed. “I’m joking. Iker will play. I have two very good goalkeepers who have a fantastic attitude and in my opinion Diego deserves to play in La Liga and Iker, because of his professionalism and his ability, should play in the Champions League. Casillas has a lot of experience. He seems calm and I think he’s going to have a great match. He has all the ability to deal with the pressure; he has no problem with that.”
Madrid, with Diego Lopez in goal, saw off Galatasaray in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, although, up 3-0 from the first leg, they were given a scare in Istanbul before prevailing despite a 3-2 defeat on the night.
Galatasaray have had a poor start to their domestic season, drawing three straight matches after an opening victory.