On Oct. 30, Real Madrid announced Gareth Bale’s new contract. The deal extended the mutual relationship between club and player until 2022 and therefore made the Welshman the natural heir to Cristiano Ronaldo’s throne.
Less than a month later, the Welshman picked up his eighth injury in three and a half seasons with Real Madrid, as he damaged the peroneal tendons on his right ankle in his team’s 2-1 win against Sporting of Portugal last Tuesday. This injury adds to a long list of physical issues for Bale, who simply has not been able to stay fit for a full season since he became a professional.
The new setback for the Welshman looks reasonably serious. On Thursday, Real Madrid announced that Bale will have to undergo surgery, although the short statement did not mention how long it will take for the player to come back. Medical sources estimate that, depending on how quickly Bale’s body can heal, it could take between two and three months for him to return, which means that he’ll be absent until the end of January at the earliest.
Up to now, Bale had played 11 out of 12 La Liga matches, scoring five goals and assisting his teammates twice. Numbers aside, he looked like the most in-shape player in the squad, close to the remarkable form he showed at the end of last season.
Untimely as this injury is, it brings Bale back to a similar situation he went through last season: he had scored 11 times in eight matches and looked unstoppable, but injured his calf in January and had to spend two months recovering. Back then, he admitted that the sequence of injuries had prevented him from performing even better in his tenure thus far with Real Madrid.
It’s obvious that the amount of surgeries that the Real Madrid squad have suffered in the last three seasons defies explanation. Half-jokingly, Thursday’s Marca spoke about The Curse of San Siro, as 10 out of 11 starters in last season’s Champions League final have already been sidelined by physical problems this season. The newspaper forgot to mention that the only healthy member of that exclusive club, Daniel Carvajal, indeed injured himself in the final, and as a consequence missed last summer’s Euro 2016.
In fact, out of the 24 first team players, only seven have not missed a single game due to injury after three months of this season: Kiko Casilla, Yanez, Raphael Varane, Nacho Fernandez, Danilo, Marco Asensio, Lucas Vazquez and Mariano, of whom only Varane is somewhere near being a starter.
However, even in this shocking context of injured players galore, Bale’s case is concerning. Other players can play through pain or hide a subpar form with their knowledge of the game or thanks to their style of playing. The Welsh forward can’t afford that, as his physical form is instrumental in the way he plays.
Bale’s skills with the ball are unquestionable, but what makes him truly unstoppable is his ability to leave the fastest defender behind with his unparalleled ability to accelerate to top speed in a matter of seconds. No full-back tries to play too close to him, as it’s too easy for the Welshman to push the ball forward and bet a race with his marker. Without that, Bale becomes a lot easier to defend.
Many injury-prone players have seen their careers cut short due to their inability to stay healthy, but there are examples of others who, changing dietary and sleeping habits and strengthening specific muscle groups, have managed to turn a negative dynamic of constant injuries into 70+ match seasons, such as Lionel Messi.
This column has pointed out before that Bale has everything to become a star in Real Madrid’s selected group of legends: he’s incredibly skilled, very appealing in the way he plays and has a knack to score clutch goals in top-level matches, goals that are worth trophies. The club’s supporter base adores him.
But the Welshman is risking his own career and his legacy because of this injury weakness. Paradoxically, his biggest asset — his body — has become his biggest enemy as well.