Juanito, one of the most celebrated players in the history of Real Madrid declared, at his presentation as a Los Blancos player that “Playing for Real Madrid is like touching the sky.” In that simple phrase, he probably expressed the emotions of so many players that have pulled on the famous all white shirt. Gareth Bale will doubtless experience something very similar when his deal to go to the Bernabeu is finally completed.
There’s more to joining a club such as Real Madrid than the history and glory however. And when you’re the world’s most expensive player, those other things are likely to be magnified exponentially. It will doubtless be a challenge for a seemingly well-grounded person like Bale to adapt to a totally different lifestyle. Failure to do so may mean that the goldfish bowl could feel more like a prison however, and a prison is a prison even if the bars are of gold.
As the deal nears completion, a number of people are offering advice to Bale as to how to ensure that not only is he a success on the field, but also his off field and family life is enhanced by the experience. Michael Owen joined Madrid , not as the burgeoning world star that Bale is, but as a famous signing none the less. He describes a salutary tale of how the process shouldn’t be managed. Like Bale he moved to Spain with a partner and a young child, but opted for hotel room rather than moving into a house. He freely admits that he never really integrated in the Spanish lifestyle and culture and in an article in the Telegraph website explains how life became so difficult for him and his family. At least Owen had the escape of playing and training, plus the camaraderie of his team mates. For his wife however, isolated in a hotel room, it was much more difficult. Owen relates that:
“A few times I used to play nine holes of golf with Ronaldo – the Brazilian – and the reserve keeper César Sánchez. I felt really guilty. I knew my wife and daughter would be in the hotel with nothing to do. I would get in the car after training, and my wife would call, asking: “How long until you are here?” “Twenty minutes.” She’d then ring again. “How long now?” “Five minutes.” It paints a sad picture.
It shouldn’t be thought that Madrid is the only place where this can occur. An article from the Guardian online relates the fate Juan Roman Riquelme, an Argentine signed by Barcelona. It illustrates just how bad it can be:
“Riquelme became so homesick, he admitted several years later, that when he went back to Don Torcuato on his holidays he often cried when it was time to leave. Ferran Soriano, Barcelona’s vice-president at the time, remembers someone from the club giving Riquelme a lift home and being shocked by the state of his apartment. “All there was in the living room was a table with a checked tablecloth and a few chairs. There was a container for mate and that was it.” Soriano speaks of a player who “lived in total isolation in Barcelona, without his family, pulled down by permanent sadness”.
Clearly these are the extreme stories, and there’s nothing to say that Bale won’t experience an enriching lifestyle enjoyed by the like of David Beckham and Steve McManaman in Madrid. The young Welshman will doubtless have sound advisors around him and Madrid will have support systems in place to ensure any transition in lifestyle is managed successfully.
Playing for what is probably still the most famous club in the world is the dream of many professional player, and to have this delivered at the tender age of 23, with the additional accolade of being the most expensive player in the world, with financial security is probably more than anyone can rightly ask for, but this is where Bale is.
On the field there’s every likelihood that during the extent of Bale’s contract there’ll be an abundance of medals and glory that is almost the right of all Real Madrid players. Such riches and the more financial wealth that will also come his way will seem as irrelevant however if, when reaching up to touch the sky, Bale’s happiness drowns in the gold fish bowl of life at the club.
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