Using Opta data, we assess whether Gareth Bale really has been in a decline since joining Real Madrid, and just what he can offer Spurs.
In 2013, Real Madrid paid a then world-record fee to secure Gareth Bale's signature.
The flying winger had been sensational in the Premier League for Tottenham and, in his final season in north London, scored 26 goals and provided 11 assists across all competitions.
Bale's form resulted in Madrid paying €100million (£85m) to take him to Santiago Bernabeu, as Florentino Perez attempted to usher in a new galactico era.
Yet seven years later, Bale is heading back to Tottenham on a season-long loan, now as a 31-year-old whose best days are most likely behind him.
While Bale has certainly had his injury issues, his lack of game time at Madrid in recent seasons – he featured just 20 times in all competitions last term – seems to have been due to a breakdown in his relationship with Zinedine Zidane, more than any doubt over the quality he can offer.
Back at his former club, Bale will aim to lift Spurs and get his career back on track, but can his seven-year stint at Madrid be considered a success – he did after all win four Champions League trophies, one Copa del Rey and two LaLiga titles – or a failure?
Using Opta data, we take a look at his season by season stats.
In his final season at Tottenham, Bale was involved in 37 goals in all competitions – only Robin van Persie (39) and Juan Mata (49) were involved in more for a Premier League club in 2012-13. Bale maintained that form in his maiden season in Spain, scoring 22 times and providing 16 assists across 44 appearances. Of his Madrid team-mates, only the imperious Cristiano Ronaldo managed more direct goal involvements (65).
He capped his first season in Madrid with a brilliant goal against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final, which Los Blancos won, before scoring in extra-time to put Carlo Ancelotti's side 2-1 up against Atletico Madrid in the 2014 Champions League Final.
Having averaged a goal every 0.56 LaLiga matches in his first season at Madrid, Bale's output dropped in his second campaign, with the Welshman managing 13 goals from 31 league appearances, at an average of 0.42.
In total across all competitions, he registered 17 goals and 12 assists, despite playing four games more than in 2013-14. On average, he attempted five dribbles per 90 minutes, down from 5.8 the previous season, while he had 51.8 touches per 90 – the fewest amount of any season from 2007-08 onwards.
Bale managed just 31 appearances in an injury-hit third campaign, though his goal statistics improved. While providing 12 assists, he scored 19 times in all competitions, including netting four in a 10–2 victory over Rayo Vallecano. In Zinedine Zidane's first match in charge – in January 2016 – he netted a hat-trick to help crush Deportivo La Coruna 5-0.
On March 23, Bale scored his 43rd LaLiga goal to overtake Gary Lineker as the highest scoring British player in the competition's history. While his dribbles attempted again decreased, he threatened the goal more regularly with 4.2 shots per 90, while he averaged 58.4 touches.
It was in Bale's fourth season in the Spanish capital that things began to turn. Having only signed a new contract in October, Bale suffered an ankle injury in November that kept him out for four months. His injury troubles plagued him throughout the campaign – he was forced off in his 100th LaLiga appearance for the club, which ended in a 3-2 defeat to Barca.
Madrid nevertheless won their 33rd LaLiga title and the Champions League, with Bale managing 27 appearances in total, scoring nine goals and setting up a further three.
Despite an injury-hit 2016-17, Bale enjoyed one of his most productive seasons at Madrid in the next campaign. He created six goals and scored 21 himself – his highest total since 2013-14, with 16 of those goals coming from 26 LaLiga appearances, at an average of 0.62 per 90 and a conversion rate of 20.78 per cent.
Bale managed this despite averaging only 53.4 touches – his second-lowest total from 2007-08 – and 3.8 shots per game. His season ended in fantastic fashion, as he came on to score a remarkable overhead kick goal to put Madrid 2-1 up against Liverpool in the Champions League final, before he netted a second to put the result beyond doubt.
With Ronaldo having left for Juventus, Bale played 42 times in 2018-19, though his total goal involvements dipped from 27 to 20 (14 goals, six assists). On December 19, Bale scored a hat-trick in a 3–1 win over Kashima Antlers in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup, becoming the third player to net three goals in a match in the tournament after Ronaldo and Luis Suarez.
In February, Bale scored his 100th Madrid goal, making him one of only 21 players to have scored 100+ goals for the club in all competitions.
The writing seemed to be on the wall for Bale at Madrid as speculation over a big-money move to Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning grew, but a transfer failed to materialise and the forward stayed at Santiago Bernabeu.
However, in a season elongated by the coronavirus pandemic, Bale was used just 20 times by Zidane. He managed three goals and two assists, taking his respective tallies to 105 and 57, with a total of 162 goal involvements across seven seasons – only Ronaldo (318) and Karim Benzema (235) have been involved in more for Madrid in the same timeframe.
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