The world record signing of Gareth Bale has finally been agreed, following a summer of highly-amped speculation. Luckily for Bale, despite carrying his colossal £85m price tag, he’s remaining reasonably humble and grounded by suggesting Ronaldo was “still the boss” on Monday.
But as the deal is finally put to bed, one thing still remains; how exactly will Gareth Bale perform on European football’s centre stage?
Bale, named both PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year last season – and was amazingly once considered a jinx for Spurs – will undoubtedly come under intense scrutiny from every football fan across the world when his Madrid journey begins. And I’ll be one of those fans too; he may not have quite reached the realms of either Messi or Ronaldo yet, but his former boss held him very much in a similar light, “for Spurs to lose Gareth would be the same as Real losing Ronaldo, or Barcelona losing Messi, a disaster.”
Bale could become the modern day poster boy for every young football fan across the UK and despite a lack of recent Briton’s succeeding abroad, he’s already made important strides towards breaking that curse. Addressing the Real fans in Spanish during his official unveiling would’ve been warmly received by those fans, especially those sceptical of his astronomical price tag. But that scepticism, heightened during Spain’s current economic crisis, will be forgotten should Bale help Real regain European dominance.
Bale is undoubtedly a unique player; he’s strong, fast, he can pass, he can dribble and we’re well aware of his shooting capabilities. But what does all this mean for Real? And how will his performances affect, the now, second world’s most expensive player; Cristiano Ronaldo?
As ever in these situations, I spoke with friends over at Prozone for their expert opinion. I was keen to understand just how Bale compared to Ronaldo last season, how each of their games would likely affect the other and subsequently, the overall affect this would likely have on Real.
Contribution to the team
Firstly, Prozone analysed each of the players’ contribution to their clubs last season. The figures in the table below assess each player’s output as a proportion of the team’s total output, in matches where they played the full 90 minutes.
The data confirms the two clubs’ dependency on Ronaldo and Bale last season:
Despite only having roughly 10% of the team’s individual possessions, they generally output significantly more than 10% of the team’s actions.
- Approximately a third of goals and shots came from the two players, whilst Bale was relied on more for crossing at Tottenham than Ronaldo at Madrid.
- Given how much both players contribute to the teams they play in, domestically and internationally, it seems likely that in the same team they’ll dilute each other’s relative outputs. Few teams, if any, have only two players scoring 70% of the team’s goals.
- This is not necessarily a bad thing. Both players may give up goals in return for a highly potent attack on both wings, potentially resulting in more success for the team.
Usage of possession
To better understand how Bale may play and fit in at Real Madrid, Prozone compared his usage of the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria. It is likely that Bale will take di Maria’s role on the right wing.
Again, it’s striking how similar Ronaldo and Bale are in terms of how they use the ball; influenced by a combination of tactical instruction and underlying talent.
- Ronaldo has a greater tendency to shoot than the Welshman – possibly a product of playing position – but on the whole they pass, dribble and lose possession at similar rates.
- More significantly, Bale is distinctly dissimilar to Angel di Maria. The Argentinean plays a more considered game than Bale, with a greater tendency to pass instead of shoot. Di Maria also plays the ball in one touch less regularly.
- It seems likely Bale will be encouraged to play his ‘natural game’ for Madrid, which is closer to Ronaldo’s than di Maria’s.
- This would mean attacks down Madrid’s left and right may be similar in nature; not necessarily a bad thing given the talent available.
- With two years left on Ronaldo’s contract, in the long run Gareth Bale seems capable of tactically filling the Portuguese’s role on the right wing; there will plenty of examination as to whether Bale can technically match his high standards.
The above certainly helps us understand the similarities between both Bale and Ronaldo. Whilst concerns were raised how Bale would compliment Ronaldo’s playing style, it seems Real are in favour of furthering their attacking prowess – by replacing the more considered Di Maria with Bale. And if Bale and Ronaldo’s performances continue as they have the past couple of seasons, then the Bernabeu could become one of the greatest shows on earth.
Moving to another country isn’t easy; he’ll have to adapt to Spanish culture, weather and language. But he’s a young lad whose head appears firmly screwed on, along with that, Real Madrid will have stringent protocol to protect their latest prized-asset. The stage is now set for Gareth Bale, the world’s most expensive player.
Let me know your thoughts on the subject; regardless of data, how do you envisage Bale’s on-field relationship with Ronaldo evolving? Can Bale emulate the success of Messi or Ronaldo? I’ll try reply to as many as possible.
A special thanks to everyone over at Prozone for proving the data used in this week’s blog.