Gareth Bale did his talking both on and off the pitch on Saturday night. In some style, too.
Left on the bench by manager Zinedine Zidane for the opening hour of Real Madrid’s Champions League final against Liverpool, Bale made a stunning impact in the closing 30-odd minutes. His sensational overhead bicycle kick with only his third touch of the ball put the Spanish giants back in front after Sadio Mane had cancelled out Karim Benzema’s bizarre opener, and then his long-range effort which bamboozled the hapless Loris Karius in the Liverpool goal effectively clinched Real’s third European title in a row.
Bale wasn’t finished there, either. After picking up his winners’ medal and the man-of-the-match award, the Welsh international revealed to the world’s media that he might leave the Bernabeu this summer. “I am going to have to sit down over the summer and seriously consider what we do next,” Bale admitted.
He added: “I want to enjoy this moment first, then rest over the summer and I’m sure we’ll sit down at the table and see what’s for the best. For me personally, I feel like I should be playing week in, week out and I haven’t been. I’ve been doing well, scoring goals, but haven’t been playing as much as I would like.”
Bale is under contract at Madrid until 2022 and the weekend’s win over Liverpool in Kiev secured his fourth European Cup in five years at the club. But afterwards he didn’t try to hide his frustration that Zidane had instead picked Benzema to partner Cristiano Ronaldo in attack.
“I was very disappointed not to start the game. I felt like maybe I deserved to start,” continued Bale, who had scored five goals in his previous five matches after regaining his form following injury.
“I have been playing well since Christmas, really, so anyone would be disappointed not to start a final.
“I got over my ankle injury just around Christmas; it took until then to fully recover and now I feel like I am getting stronger, getting better, and that I have a lot more left to give.”
Rumours that the relationship between Bale and Ronaldo is not the best have persisted for a while now, and so the Welshman could choose to put any decision about his future on hold until it becomes clear where the Portuguese superstar will be playing his football next season.
Ronaldo also threw his Real future into doubt after the final whistle sounded by refusing to guarantee he would be at the club for the 2018/19 campaign. When it was put to Bale that Ronaldo’s comments suggested a change may be in the offing, he added: “I didn’t know, I just got told about it now.”
This final wasn’t all about Bale, of course. Liverpool started brightly and made most of the early running, with half-chances for Mane, Roberto Firmino and Trent Alexander-Arnold. But Jurgen Klopp’s side suffered a hammer blow midway through the first half when Mohamed Salah, their 44-goal talisman, went off in tears and with a suspected dislocated shoulder after falling to the ground in a tangle with Real captain Sergio Ramos.
It killed Liverpool’s confidence, the tactical reshuffle seeing Mane switched to the right to accommodate substitute Adam Lallana, and encouraged Real, who began to commit men forward. Madrid defender Dani Carvajal also left the pitch in tears moments later after injuring his ankle but it hardly redressed the balance of Salah’s absence.
Real thought they had taken the lead before half-time when Benzema turned in from close range after Ronaldo’s header was parried by Karius but an offside flag cut short the celebrations and it was 0-0 at the break.
Karius gifted Real the lead six minutes after the restart. The German goalkeeper tried to quickly release Dejan Lovren with an underarm throw but Benzema, lurking in close proximity, stuck out a boot and directed the ball into the net.
Mane equalised from close range four minutes later, after Lovren’s header from a James Milner corner, but then Bale came on.
First he latched on to a Marcelo cross from the left in a way no one in the Olympic Stadium was anticipating, producing a stunning overhead kick which dropped just under the crossbar in the 64th minute. Then, after Andrew Robertson had kept Liverpool in it with a last-ditch tackle on Ronaldo, Bale let fly from 30 yards with a shot that Karius inexplicably let slip through his fingers.