When you play for Real Madrid, the only way is down.
The next time whistles from fans at the Santiago Bernabeu ring in his ears, or when the Spanish media slates him for a poor performance, I hope Gareth Bale doesn’t lose sight of that.
On the back of a quiet display against Juventus this week it won’t feel like it this second, but these are likely to be the greatest, most exciting days of his footballing life.
Right now he’s part of the game’s aristocracy. Mixing it with the beautiful people, Bale is operating at the highest level of club football and challenging for all the major prizes. He’s surrounded by many of the world’s best players, and admired by one of the sport’s finest coaches too.
In reality it doesn’t (and it won’t) get much better than that for the Welshman.
As tough a time as he is having in the Spanish capital coping with criticism, and as tempting as it must be to say to his agent, “Stuff this, I want to go home,” I really hope he doesn’t book that flight.
On the face of it returning to the Premier League for big money, bringing his family back to England, and being one of the main men at Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea doesn’t sound like too bad a consolation prize. And it isn’t.
But as we saw with our own eyes this week, the standards being set by Real Madrid, Barcelona and the true heavyweights of European football are blowing away what our English clubs are currently capable of producing. As part of a team that’s at least one if not two rungs above, his full potential as a footballer is far more likely to be reached where he is.
Being top dog elsewhere and no longer living in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo does sound inviting, but from a professional perspective it’s a second prize.
I’d advise any aspiring footballer to try and play at the highest level their ability allows – and to stay there for as long as they can.
A career flies by way too quickly, and from personal experience I know that playing at lower levels isn’t always easier, or more forgiving. In fact sometimes it’s harder.
The Premier League isn’t going to disappear and English football will always welcome Gareth Bale back with open arms – but for as long as the Welsh star is deemed good enough for Real Madrid, and is still wanted by the manager of Real Madrid (which he is) then I think he’d be crazy to walk away.
Five minutes can be a long time in football.
One or two match winning displays and I’m convinced Bale will get the supporters and press back on his side.
It’s time to tough it out, and win over the doubters. That’s what top players do.