Gareth Bale: ‘Real Madrid have an aura – other teams are playing against the badge’

Estimated read time 5 min read

Gareth Bale’s boyish complexion infers he could well be participating in Saturday’s Champions League final. Instead, a decade on from winning the competition for the first of five times with Real Madrid, the 34-year-old will gladly watch on from the Wembley stands. Almost 17 months have passed since Bale announced the end of a decorated playing career. His contentment is immediately obvious.

“It will be nice, not going in with all that pressure and expectation,” he says of the final. “So something I’m not really used to. I’ll enjoy the occasion without being in that pressure cooker.”

Bale believes Madrid will see off Borussia Dortmund. He cites their course and distance specialism in this competition as key. But what precisely is it about the Champions League that fuels the 14-time winners to such routinely devastating effect?

“Even having been there, that is hard to explain,” Bale says. “Obviously it means a lot to the club and to the fans. It is the one competition valued more than any others, the main focus every year. But the fact they keep doing it, even when they seem down and out … we always seem to find a way to get back into a game and win it. It is that aura; other teams now are arguably playing the badge and not necessarily the team. It has momentum behind it, Real Madrid and the European Cup. Teams are scared to play Real Madrid and that is such a big thing.”

The Welshman’s reference to “we” feels telling. “I was there for a long time,” he says. “I still look for their results, still love the team, still support then, just like I did when I was young. I fully expect Madrid to lift the trophy. They understand the pressures and know what to expect, which is a big advantage.”

This time, the chat about football was secondary. Bale was speaking from the clubhouse at Walton Heath, where the Underrated Golf tour has made its first UK stop this week. The aim of the circuit, launched and backed by the basketball star Steph Curry, is to provide access to golf for student athletes from overlooked communities. There is particular focus on ethnic minorities and children from underprivileged backgrounds. Underrated points towards the dominance of Tiger Woods. “Although his reign on the sport is celebrated, the number of professional black golfers coming up in his shoes continues to be less and less,” it states.

Gareth Bale watches players start their first round of the Underrated Golf tour at Walton Heath.View image in fullscreen

Bale was suitably captivated during a meeting with Curry six weeks ago to become an Underrated ambassador. He has delivered motivational talks to 100 girls and boys afforded five-star treatment in Surrey. “From speaking to Steph and his team, it was clear what they were doing was incredible,” Bale says. “The access they are able to give to all these young players, the finances they have put behind it to provide everything … we know how expensive it is to come to golf tournaments, especially for families who are not so well off.

“This gives opportunity to so many kids and gives them a taste of what big-time golf can be like. The families and kids here have been blown away by everything that has been put in place. I’m excited to try and grow this in Europe.”

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Bale readily agrees golf has suffered from the perception it is the sport of wealthy white males. “It is now moving away from that,” he says. “What Underrated is doing is closing that gap and changing that narrative. I grew up with a normal background and not much money. I never really had any opportunity in golf when I was younger. Football is much easier. There’s a lot that comes with starting out in golf and it’s about trying to give more access, to take the pressure off money-wise and seeing an opportunity to reach a higher playing level.”

Bale is circumspect on what lies ahead. Coaching or management does not currently appeal. A 17-year on-field run scaled epic highs but took a physical and emotional toll. “It has been nice to let my body settle down,” he says. “It was sore and banged up towards the end. Ankles, knees, back. The years add up.

“I have mainly been spending time with my family, getting some golf in when I can and I will enjoy the next few years before deciding what else I want to do. It was the right time to retire and I’m very happy with my decision. I have some commercial stuff that I enjoy and this work with Underrated is very rewarding in terms of giving back and doing the right thing. So I’m enjoying life at the moment – it is more settled now. It is also nice waking up and not limping downstairs for breakfast.” He will return to Wembley with a spring in his step.


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