GARETH BALE lifted five Champions League winners’ medals with Real Madrid and scored in two finals, including an exceptional overhead kick against Liverpool in 2018.
So you find it difficult to call the Welshman’s nine-year spell at the Bernabeu a failure.
Still, Bale left the Spanish capital largely unloved. Mainly because he made it clear that Real Madrid aren’t his favorite team and that football isn’t even his favorite sport.
Bale was ‘the golfer’ who loved playing for Wales but never Real – a distant figure, unfriendly to either the language or the culture.
A man who has never seemed to appreciate what it means to play for the most famous club in the world and was not content with being a lucky charm on the substitutes’ bench.
With Jude Bellingham becoming the youngest British footballer at the Bernabeu, it’s clear the England midfielder is learning from Bale’s mistakes.
The country’s most expensive footballer is still a lanky brummie teenager – he turns 20 next week – and one might have imagined him looking a bit awkward at the media unveiling last week.
Especially as he inherited Zinedine Zidane’s famous number 5 shirt and had just signed his six-year contract in a room where “14 European cups were staring at me”.
But while no footballer is judged primarily on his appearances in the media, Bellingham’s performance was a triumph.
He was humble and kind, personable and amusing.
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He made a prominent English journalist living in Spain beam – an honest and not cynical move – and a fastidious local press force ate him out of the hand.
“A Galactico for the next ten years,” predicted one newspaper.
But Galactico became the epitome of an era when Real had famous, veteran players with commercial clout but never produced a balanced side and rarely won anything.
Bellingham is part of an exciting Real Madrid rebuild that has youth at its heart.
Eduardo Camavinga (20), Aurelien Tchouameni (23) and Bellingham will eventually replace the midfield triangle made up of Luka Modric (37), Toni Kroos (33) and the already eliminated 31-year-old Casemiro.
Kylian Mbappe, 24, could well come as Real remain the leader of the best young players in the world no matter what lures the Premier League lures.
It helps that Bellingham had already lit a World Cup and spent three years at Borussia Dortmund, where he was sometimes captain of a powerful club in front of the Westfalenstadion’s huge yellow wall.
Such experiences tend to take away a child’s shyness.
In Dortmund he befriended old club legends, sought their advice and became part of the club and not just another foreign player passing by.
At Madrid, Bellingham has hired an FA player manager to support him full-time as he settles in – a move that suggests he also wants to impress off the pitch.
Many are surprised that Bellingham has opted for Real instead of returning to England. But those close to him insist it has always been his dream.
As with many of his generation, his formative experiences playing football came during the peak years of the Messi-Ronaldo classics.
Far more Real Madrid and Barcelona replica shirts would have graced the pitches of Birmingham than Liverpool or Manchester clubs.
The fixtures for next LaLiga season will be released tomorrow and Bellingham will be excited about the dates when he will face champions Barca and become part of this big and bitter rivalry.
Bellingham, who left Birmingham City aged 16, has never played in the Premier League and probably won’t until he’s in his mid to late 20s.
That’s remarkable for the best English footballer of his generation at a time of the Premier League’s preeminent financial dominance.
However, it portends courage, curiosity and independence of thought, which will be of great benefit to him.
Nevertheless, caution is advised. Bellingham is a high-mileage player who made a phenomenal 200 senior appearances in club and international football as a teenager.
He has missed England’s last two games with a long-standing knee problem and players who play too much and too early often fail to last the distance.
But like Bale before him, Bellingham has the talent, adaptability, attitude and physique to be a huge success in Madrid.
In the end, he might not win five Champions League winners’ medals, but Bellingham will most likely discover the affection and acceptance Bale has missed.
Stand tall, Tyler
As Sky’s chief commentator since the Premier League was formed 31 years ago, MARTIN TYLER was arguably the voice of English football’s bold new era of world domination.
But one of the main reasons for its success was its strong connection to the roots of the game.
Tyler delayed his entry into broadcast journalism for several years as he was a useful center forward for the Corinthian Casuals.
And he continued to coach at non-league sides like Woking, the club he has always supported, and Dartford while calling games in the world’s richest league.
This gave him authenticity in addition to his eloquence.
Tyler – who is leaving Sky aged 77 but insists he hasn’t retired from commenting – will be missed.
O’Neil’s release is so amazing
GARY O’NEIL and Bournemouth were a perfect match – low key, over the top and entertaining.
And while there have been some totally unexpected sackings of managers who have proven their worth for clubs, the sacking of O’Neil – after saving the club from relegation – portends a new American owner with serious megalomania.
Just win the ball in a hurry
WHEN Spurs appointed Ange Postecoglou as their new manager, Celtic fans told us they were in for a surprise if they saw the Australian’s revolutionary ‘Angeball’ approach.
It turns out that Postecoglou expects his players to run around a lot, win back the ball quickly and try to score a lot of goals – just like any other elite coach.
Which brings us to Kai Havertz – the Chelsea forward pursued by Arsenal.
In a football landscape obsessed with pace, here’s a modern-day Dimitar Berbatov, where subtle touches matter, slowing down the game and finding the time and space to do something else.
Arsenal could use an absolute goalscorer, which Havertz – despite scoring the winner in the 2021 Champions League final – is not.
But his signing could prove to be a masterpiece from Mikel Arteta. And Arsene Wenger would certainly approve of that.
GOOD to see Jack Grealish becoming Manchester City’s answer to Freddie Flintoff by leading the drinking tour in his club’s open-top bus parade.
If a personable, handsome young multimillionaire can’t fully enjoy winning the treble, then what’s the point of being a personable, handsome young multimillionaire who has won the treble?
Next, expect Grealish to paddle out to the Caribbean – Flintoff style, multiple sails to the wind – and then become one of our top light entertainers.
Take a sledgehammer
WHY all the overbearing performance by our Aussie friends after England bowler Ollie Robinson yelled ‘damn you bastard’ at Usman Khawaja after failing to open the game in Edgbaston?
When I was last in Australia, it was considered a warm expression of tenderness.
However, the incident confirms the biggest myth in cricket – that luge is often imaginative and funny.
The slowness must continue
WHILE the rapid goals of England’s Bazball approach thrilled the nation, Dom Sibley – who was abandoned by the national side two years ago – blazed his way to the slowest century in County Championship history.
Surrey’s opening player Sibley took nearly nine hours to reach triple figures.
As an expression of the inconsistency that goes against the zeitgeist, it is worth a lot.
But it worked. Surrey reached a goal of 501, beating Kent.