It’s long been understood that playing with Cristiano Ronaldo is not the easiest of tasks. He is a singular talent that thrives on a team built with the specific objective of facilitating him. As driven an athlete as you’ll ever find, he focuses only on winning—and to him, the path to winning starts and ends with him doing what he does better than almost anyone who’s ever lived: scoring goals.
Many suspected that the addition of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, a deal consummated at the direct behest of the dictatorial club president and sealed for the biggest transfer fee ever, had a chance to upset the team’s sensitive hierarchy. Bale is the president’s chosen one, the player he will stop at nothing to make into a success, the man he desperately desires to see ascend to the peak of the game, either alongside or in replacement of Lionel Messi and/or Ronaldo.
Bale has made sure to say all the right things. He has acknowledged that, in his view, Ronaldo is the best player in the world, and in a situation not too dissimilar to the Derek Jeter-Alex Rodriguez relationship, Bale willingly abandoned his preferred position on the left wing for a spot on the right. But in his heart-of-hearts, the Welshman has to dream of a more prominent position. After all, a superstar goes to Barcelona to play with Messi; he goes to Real to be Ronaldo.
The relationship has at times appeared strained. Ronaldo has rustled up some of his highest-ever goal scoring hauls while playing next to Bale. For his part, Bale hasn’t had the most seamless of transitions into life in Madrid; though thanks to the constant support from his benefactor in the president’s chair, he knows he remains the future of the club. However, save the odd infelicitous goal celebration, we’ve never gotten solid evidence to determine the warmth (or lack thereof) of their relationship.
Until now, that is. In a long interview with the Guardian, Bale’s agent Jonathan Barnett has some interesting comments about the two teammates. After an opening few paragraphs in which, not so coincidentally perhaps, Barnett hints at his own professional rivalry with Ronaldo’s agent, Barnett gets into the situation of his most famous client.
It comes up after the Guardian notes how Barnett spoke out last season about his belief that Bale’s performances suffered in part because his teammates wouldn’t pass to him—and offered stats to support his claims. Barnett now says doesn’t regret backing his player so publicly, especially not since he feels he was ultimately vindicated:
“I had an analysis made and it was true. I know Mr Ancelotti had a go at me. But then I’m still an agent and he’s not a manager. So one of us is right,” Barnett says, breaking into laughter.
He continues into what he suspects was the cause of the anti-Bale sentiment among a sizable percent of the fanbase:
“I think there’s a great love of Ronaldo. I think that the new guard is coming and there’s some resentment, perhaps, to that. But I think things will change. Gareth’s now playing in a better position [more centrally], where he wants to play. I’ve always said it, I think he’ll be the best player in the world in the next couple of years.”
Does this resentment rest only with the supporters or has it crept into the dressing room itself? It’s not for nothing that new manager Rafa Benítez has been convinced to play Bale centrally to maximize his involvement, even though the move doesn’t make much sense strategically. Plus, there has to be something to those rumors of Ronaldo making his exit out of Madrid sooner than later, possibly even after this season.
On the pair’s relationship:
“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. 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.”
So they don’t hate each other, eh? That’s all he’s got? And he bolsters his characterization by saying they don’t hang out, are nothing alike, and with a couple digs at Ronaldo’s off-field endeavors thrown in for good measure? Sure, I’ll buy that merely strongly dislike each other.
All of which is perfectly fine, by the way. In a sport with so many players of varying personalities, nationalities, ego sizes, and net worths, it’s completely understandable that the whole squad doesn’t head over to James Rodríguez’s house after each game for an impromptu Call of Duty tournament while Marcelo fires up the grill.
And yet Ronaldo’s game and his ego do need to be the unquestioned stars of his teams if it’s all going to work well, and Bale did come to town to be Ronaldo’s successor. The two guys might not be the best of friends right now, but that might not matter for too much longer.