Photo credit: David Ramos/Getty

It’s more than a little insane to think that Gareth Bale—after four seasons at Real Madrid in which he has played 150 matches and amassed a mind-boggling combined 118 goals and assists, in that time asserting himself as a perennial top 10 player in the world with an unrivaled combination of speed and power and creativity and scoring prowess—currently finds himself fighting to justify his continued place in the squad, coming up against the skepticism of the local press and the ire of the booing fan base. The only thing more insane than those facts is that the pressure Bale is under is completely warranted in the face of Real’s almost unfairly deep roster and the club’s insatiable, uncompromising hunger for universal domination.

This puts Bale in a strange predicament. He has done so much for the club, yet in a time where normally you’d think all his goals and assists would buy him some desperately needed time and leeway to work himself back into form after struggling with injuries for the better part of last year, he’s instead seeing his every move scrutinized under a microscope wielded by suspicious fans who would probably prefer him to fail and be sold than succeed. Bale’s challenge is to recapture his former greatness, and right away, or risk being ostracized by fans and losing the faith of his manager with young lions like Isco and Marco Asensio waiting in the wings to steal his minutes. Thankfully for him, Bale revealed some of his old magic this weekend, and not a moment too soon.

Real Madrid were out in Basque country on Sunday to play Real Sociedad in what was a very important game for the Blancos. Madrid haven’t gotten off to the hottest of starts this season. Coming into the Real Sociedad match, Madrid had drawn both of their prior two league games, and should they have failed to beat a hot Sociedad team, they could’ve dropped to at least six points behind Barcelona in the table. To top it off, Madrid were without the services of a number of critical players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, and Marcelo. If ever there were a banana peel for Madrid to slip on, this was it. And without two-thirds of the BBC, all eyes turned to Bale to see if he would save the day or fall short once again and in the process justify the turmoil of his present status in Madrid and the uncertainty over his future. Though on paper this was only an early season game against an overmatched Spanish opponent, the stakes were actually much higher—for Bale especially.

In this atmosphere, Bale responded with a fairly unremarkable performance, save one crucial, perfectly timed moment of archetypical Balean brilliance that essentially decided the game in Madrid’s favor, and should earn Bale some much needed confidence of the fans and from himself:

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The goal itself, when the match was still in the balance with Madrid leading by a single goal an hour into a pretty competitive game, was huge for all the reasons discussed above. Even more important than that, though, was how he managed to score his goal. Bale needed to come up big in a big moment after he’d failed to make much of an impact in either of Madrid’s two league draws, but even more than that he needed to demonstrate that all the leg injuries he’d suffered from hadn’t robbed him of the searing speed that has always been his most lethal attribute. So the way Bale dusted off the old jets, flying down the pitch past la Real’s Kevin Rodrigues, making it look as if the defender were running through mud before Bale took a touch and lifted the ball over the keeper, made the goal much more significant than just being his team’s third goal in what would end up a 3-1 win. Scoring like that proved Bale could still be the Bale of those 150 appearances and 118 goals plus assists, the Bale who during the 2015-16 season was probably Madrid’s most important player, the Bale who could still be a matchup nightmare and a must-start in every game even with the likes of Isco and Asensio nipping at his heels.

Bale still has to prove that the speed and deft touches that led to his all-important goal this weekend can once again become regular fixtures of his game, and it will take a few more goals and assists and sprints that singe the grass beneath his feet for the fans to fully come back to his side. But at least he and everyone else knows that the abilities that have made Bale such a fearsome player over the years are still in there, waiting for just the right moment to come erupting forth and powering the player and his team to victory. Keep showing that, and nothing can get in his way.