It is a thought that might have appeared absurd a year ago, and indeed still would to a certain perma-tanned Portuguese, but it could well be that Gareth Bale is now the protagonist in the Real Madrid show.
In fact, the crazy old bastard of a director behind the show, Florentino Pérez, may have pointed to Bale as his biggest asset during recent contract negotiations. Bale is thought to have been handed a massive pay rise, making him the highest paid footballer in the world, with Ronaldo also handed a new deal with similar terms to his last.
Of course, there is nothing official about these figures and it could potentially be that the beloved Jorge Mendes has secured his client/hero/spiritual brother more money than Bale.
Whatever the gross details behind the two men who both kick the ball good and do other stuff good too’s contracts, there is no doubting an unspoken but tangible shift in attitudes around the city.
The once maligned Bale is now worshipped; the Bernabeu silent in anticipation every time he gets the ball and almost always awarded something for their unfair expectancy. The Welshman is 27, at his peak and finally looks over the injury troubles that disrupted him for so long as he attempted to settle into Spanish life.
Ronaldo’s trajectory, however, seems to be headed in the opposite direction. The 31-year-old has the same amount of league goals as Bale this season, but has cut a frustrated figure so far this term. Outside of his hattrick against lowly Leganés, he has only scored two in seven, and that is in no way down to a newfound sense of unselfishness.
In the recent home game against Legia Warsaw, the man who this summer opened a museum about himself in his native Madeira took nine shots but failed to net, his frustrated reactions and apparent lack of emotion when teammates scored suggesting that he was far more focused on the individual aspect of the challenge – and his continuous battle with Lionel Messi to be the Champions League’s all-time top scorer – than the team as a whole.
In that game, Bale took four shots and managed a sumptuous finish with one of those. He came off to rapturous applause, and although nobody in the stadium would dare to admit it for fear of Ronaldo somehow hearing and going apeshit, there was a feeling around the ground that the biggest star was leaving the pitch.
Perhaps it was towards the end of last season when this change began. With Ronaldo out of the team, it was Bale who showed both leadership and immense talent to inspire an incredible unbeaten run that almost so them snatch the title from under Barcelona’s noses.
Ronaldo remains the international face of the club, of course, and a talent that shouldn’t be written off. The aforementioned new contract ties him to the club until 2021 and he is adamant that there will be another one after that, characteristically ambitious with the aim to be playing for Los Blancos when he’s 41; like John Goodman at a free buffet, Ronaldo is going nowhere fast.
What is really intriguing is how the relationship between the two heavyweights will fare as their role reversal progresses. Which player is a bigger figure at the club right now is disputable, but can anybody really imagine Ronaldo carrying more weight than Bale in a couple of years? Metaphorical weight, that is, maybe he’ll go the way of his namesake and become an actual heavyweight, which would sure change those dressing room underwear photos.