Football: Gareth Bale can still come good at Real Madrid, says Steve McManaman, but Michael Owen is less sure

Michael Owen and Steve McManaman on the sidelines of a partnership signing ceremony between the Spanish La Liga and licensed crypto token exchange brand GCOX at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre on Aug 20, 2019.
Michael Owen and Steve McManaman on the sidelines of a partnership signing ceremony between the Spanish La Liga and licensed crypto token exchange brand GCOX at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre on Aug 20, 2019.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - 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, went on to sign 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 Cristiano Ronaldo-shaped hole in Real's line-up.

The pair were speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of a partnership signing ceremony on Tuesday (Aug 20) between the Spanish 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 and leaving defenders for dead much like how 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.

 

"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 on the move.

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 surprise 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 it," 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's 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. Star 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 Brazilian forwards Coutinho on loan to Bayern Munich, and Malcom 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."