Can Bale still star for Real?

STEVE MCMANAMAN, former Real Madrid player
STEVE MCMANAMAN, former Real Madrid player
MICHAEL OWEN.
MICHAEL OWEN.

Former Real stars McManaman and Owen have differing views on the Welsh winger

Steve McManaman and Michael Owen were born about 30km apart and share many similarities in their journey as footballers.

Both starred for Liverpool and England, signed for Spanish giants Real Madrid, and then played for a club in Manchester before calling time on their playing careers.

But on some subjects, they hold contrasting opinions. Like whether Gareth Bale can recover from a tumultuous summer and fill the hole in Real's line-up left by Cristiano Ronaldo, who left Madrid for Juventus last year.

The pair were speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of a partnership signing ceremony yesterday between La Liga and licensed crypto token exchange brand GCOX at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

McManaman, who made his name tearing down the wings like Bale does now, is a believer.

"Absolutely, Gareth can," said the 47-year-old, who played 152 games and scored 14 goals for Real between 1999 and 2003.

"You know what he has to do? Play. Win. Win next week. Win the week after. And score goals. Then everybody loves you again.

GOOD, BUT NOT GREAT

Yeah, (Bale) is capable of playing a starring role. But is he capable of playing a starring role like Cristiano played every single week? That's very difficult.

MICHAEL OWEN, also a former Real player, has his doubts on Bale's ability to step up. 

KEEP THE WINNING FEELING

You know what he has to do? Play. Win. Win next week. Win the week after. And score goals. Then everybody loves you again.

STEVE MCMANAMAN, former Real Madrid player, dishing out some advice to Gareth Bale.

"Real Madrid need a superstar, and let's hope it's Gareth."

After a falling out with coach Zinedine Zidane, Bale was reportedly on the verge of a lucrative move to China during the summer transfer window, only for Real president Florentino Perez to pull the plug.

Various media reports in Spain painted Welsh star Bale as a misfit who did not do enough to gel with his teammates, so it was a surprise when he was named as a starter as Real beat Celta Vigo 3-1 in their season opener last weekend.

McManaman, who won two La Liga and two Champions League titles with Real, brushed aside those media reports: "I read a Spanish paper yesterday on the way over here (to Singapore), and in it the (Real) players were saying, 'We love him, we want him to stay'.

"Three months later (the papers) will be saying, 'Oh, he can't speak Spanish'. Sometimes people make a lot more out of certain stories than they should."

Owen, however, believes the opportunity is gone for Bale, who turned 30 last month, to be the leading man for Real.

Said the 2001 Ballon d'Or winner: "Yeah, (Bale) is capable of playing a starring role. But is he capable of playing a starring role like Cristiano played every single week? That's very difficult.

"If you look at the big goals he's scored and the trophies he's won, he's done incredibly well since he's been there.

"He's a very good player, but he's not Cristiano. And obviously, it's a hard comparison if people expect the same from him."

McManaman and Owen also had opposite views on Barcelona and their off-colour start to the season. Without injured star Lionel Messi, Barca were beaten 1-0 by Athletic Bilbao, to lose a season opener for the first time since 2008.

Owen, who scored 16 goals in 45 games in his sole season at Real after signing in 2004, said it is too early to press the panic button.

"They've been in far deeper crises in the past than losing one game, and they've come through them," said the 39-year-old.

"Everybody said Real Madrid were in crisis before the start of the season because they lost heavily (7-3 to Atletico Madrid) in a pre-season game, and the world nearly ended. But then they win their first game, Gareth Bale plays, Barcelona lose... and there're so many things for (Real) to look forward to.

"Barcelona are still a great team. Losses will happen in the league, and they are going to win more games this year than they're going to lose."

McManaman, however, said the defeat by Bilbao underscored an imbalance in the Barcelona side.

"When you look at their starting XI that day, it wasn't strong enough to win the league," he said.

Other than Messi, who was missing with a calf injury, Barcelona also started the game without Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Arthur Melo. Striker Luis Suarez hobbled off with a calf injury in the first half.

Said McManaman: "I think they lack quality in certain areas, and I'd have liked for them to strengthen defensively, rather than sign forwards.

"There's talk about signing Neymar (from Paris St-Germain) - there's no need for him when you've just brought (Antoine) Griezmann in for over £100 million (S$168 million)."

Pointing to the departures of forwards Philippe Coutinho (loan) to Bayern Munich, and Malcolm to Zenit St Petersburg, he added: "They bring forwards in just to let them go the following year. It's a bit haphazard at the moment, and it's not great to see."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2019, with the headline 'Can Bale still star for Real?'. Print Edition | Subscribe