When Gareth Bale tapped home the easiest goal he will ever score in a Real Madrid shirt in the 66th minute against Sevilla, he became the highest-scoring British footballer in La Liga history, surpassing Gary Lineker.
Not that he knew that at the time, with Bale revealing post-match:
“I only just found out, my friends text me,”
With the former Tottenham Hotspur winger’s 43rd strike coming in just 76 games for Los Blancos – compared to Lineker’s 42 in 103 for Barcelona – it has seen Bale dubbed the greatest British import the Spanish league has ever seen – “Ever seen” is certainly a bit too dramatic when you consider the fact that the list of highest British scorers in the top flight of Spanish football consists of the likes of John Aldridge (33), Steve Archibald (24) and Alan Campbell (15).
Like all these generation debates, it’s basically pointless due to the changes in athletes’ capabilities, how they look after themselves and the knowledge at our disposal. Then there are the developments in technology and football – basically everything isn’t the same from one season to the next in football, let alone the mid-80s compared to nowadays.
With that being said, there’s certainly something in suggesting it’s easier for footballers in La Liga now, especially those of the Galacticos persuasion, to score than it was for Gary Lineker during his spell in Spain – even Francis Jeffers would manage double figures each season for Los Blancos with Cristiano Ronaldo & co on his team.
The first thing that stands out from the statistics is the significantly lower number of goals that Barcelona scored during Lineker’s spell – 49 and 51 as season totals are numbers that Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez manage almost single-handedly in a season, let alone combined.
In his first season at the Nou Camp, the former Leicester City striker scored 39% of Barca’s goals in La Liga, and the following season Lineker was responsible for 25%.
Lineker’s third season clearly wasn’t up to his usual levels with less appearances and significantly less goals – the current Match Of The Day presenter didn’t even make up 10%.
Compare that to Bale’s two full seasons at the Bernabeu so far and the forward contributed 11% of the goals in his debut season and then improved that to 14% the following campaign – Ronaldo contributed to 29% and then 40% of the goals during the same period.
It poses the question: Would you rather be the guy to score the last-minute winner in a 1-0 victory or the player who grabs the fifth in a 5-0 rout?
Conductor or Orchestra?
At a time when Barcelona were only just beginning to develop the style and artistry we associate with them today, Gary Lineker was leading the line in his opening two seasons with no other Barca player registering double figures in that time.
Lineker’s final season was when the change began at Barca, with Johan Cruyff really finding his feet with his Tika-Taka approach to football – it’s proven in the fact that during Lineker’s final season four team-mates managed to break the 10-goal mark for league strikes.
Lineker wasn’t perhaps ever going to suit the beautiful style of football that Gareth Bale can certainly thrive under but Lineker was crucial for Barcelona, whereas the same cannot be said for Bale at the Bernabeu.
Sure, the former Spurs man is easier to watch, scores some outlandish goals and has an explosive pace that not even the roadrunner can match. However, he’s a mere part of the orchestra, whilst the composers of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric et al go about their impressive business.
What Bale brings to this Los Blancos side may not be able to be replaced in the transfer market but the Wales international’s attributes are far from paramount to Real Madrid’s success.