A run of a lifetime, shouted Spanish paper Marca and as Cristiano Ronaldo clapped from his smart seat in the directors box, the Real Madrid fans chanted, Viva Bale. In just one 58-m sprint, the 25-year-old became a superhero, unravelling Barcelonas season further.
The goal helped Bale acquire his first piece of silverware in top-flight football, but that was incidental. The burden was finally off, as he justified his 86-million price tag. Estadio Santiago Bernabeu now has a new match-winner.
The goal was incredible. I dont think Ive seen anything like it. It looked like the ball was going out and he was under pressure. He ran off the pitch to keep it in. It was just amazing, Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti told Sky Sports after the match.
Bale accepted the adulation with humility. I just had my eyes on the ball. I knew I had to get around him (Bartra). Thankfully, the goal came at the end of it, he said.
Ronaldo, the top scorer in La Liga and the Champions League this season, had to sit out of the final with a thigh muscle injury in his left leg. Without him, Real Madrid needed someone to provide the X-factor on the field. Bale rose to the occasion and, in the process, got out of Ronaldos shadow.
At the other end, Barcelona fans were moaning about a 49-million flop; 72.9 million to be precise if you add the reported hidden costs. But once again, Neymar failed to stand up and deliver when Lionel Messi was subdued. Yet again, Bale scored over the Brazilian in the battle of the millionaires.
Here are the comparative statistics courtesy ESPNFC.com and WhoScored.com: Bale has scored 14 goals in La Liga this season in 25 appearances. Neymar has scored nine in equal number of matches. Bale has scored 20 goals in all competitions, while Neymar has scored 15. Bale has made 15 assists in all competitions, Neymars tally stops at 11. Bale also leads the shots on target chart with 109 in all competitions, while Neymar has 108. The latter, however, has a better pass completion rate86.4% compared to Bales 81.8%but the 22-year-old slightly-built-forward has failed to make an impact and form a partnership with Messi like Bale did with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.
Spanish paper AS rightly described Bale as a thoroughbred who will run even faster. He is a Galactico whom Real Madrid very keenly wanted to sign despite the fact that they already had a superstar like Ronaldo. The player arrived in Madrid on the heels of a fantastic season for Spurs and, toughened by playing in the worlds best league, he was ready for the Spanish challenge. Bale improved under Ancelotti. Neymar, on the other hand, was a little horse who came from Santos and had very little clue about the cut-throat competition in European football. Barcelona desperately wanted to have an extra attacking option after receiving a 7-0 hiding over two legs from Bayern Munich in the Champions Trophy last season. Controversy surrounded Neymars transfer, which eventually saw Sandro Rosell resign as the club president. The decision came in the wake of a Spanish court accepting a lawsuit that Rosell allegedly misappropriated funds from Neymars transfer. The whole saga put the player under big pressure and affected his performance.
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino admitted it. If I had to choose one reason (for Neymars performance), I would focus on the non-sporting issues, he said. Martinos uninspirational stewardship didnt help the matter either. And now Neymar faces an uncertain future after sustaining a metatarsal injury.
The player sustained a contusion, which caused an edema in the fourth metatarsal in his left foot, said a Barcelona spokesman.
It would be harsh to dismiss a talented player like Neymar on the basis of just one ordinary season, but he needs to get his act together quickly and start complementing Messi to pull Barcelona out of crisis. This is the first season in six years that the Calatan giants wont be winning anything.
Maybe Martinos successor at Camp Nou will use the Brazilian better and will help form a potent Messi-Neymar axis with a new style. Maybe Neymars game was not suited to tiki taka. But whatever the reason, the next season is going to be a make-or-break affair for the striker. It will shape Neymars European future.