Four months after his record move to Real Madrid, Gareth Bale is setting La Liga alight. And, as Sam Rowe finds, he wants more Brits to join him
Three quick facts about Brits abroad: 1) We turn a deep purple in any heat above room temperature; 2) We can locate a cooked breakfast quicker than a drug-sniffing customs dog; 3) Our football players don’t settle too well in sunnier climes. Or so we’re told.
Gareth Bale didn’t get that memo. A few short months into his European odyssey and the polite, self-effacing 24-year-old Cardiff boyo has conquered injury, Real Madrid’s ferocious support and Cristiano Ronaldo’s marauding ego to reign in Spain. And, given the price round his neck is more than the average personal island, we figure it can’t be easy. But, as we soon find out, Real Madrid’s newest No11 has a wise head on those very expensive shoulders.
We’re in the January transfer window – is it a welcome change to not see your own name in the headlines?
Yeah, I’m settled here now. It’s taken a few months, but it’s nice not to be linked with a transfer and to just enjoy my football.
How’s the new pad? We saw you post a view of the Bernabeu from a balcony on Instagram.
It’s nice. It’s good to be in a house not a hotel and get set up as quickly as possible. It’s also good to be able to have your family and friends over, and enjoy your time.
How does the Real Madrid dressing room compare to a British one? Are you able to understand the jokes or do you have someone to translate?
I still get involved and understand the banter, a lot of them speak English as well. It’s good fun, it’s the same as an English dressing room – everyone has a laugh.
Have the Madrid fans nailed the pronunciation of Gareth, yet?
Erm, I didn’t realise they were getting it wrong.
We’ve heard ‘Garat’, ‘Garet’ and ‘Garth’ so far…
Yeah… I think so. I’m sure it took a bit of time to get used to, but I think they’re saying it right now, which is good.
How’s your Spanish coming along? Are there any phrases you can dazzle us with?
I’m learning the basics – welcoming people and conversational stuff. The more I learn, the better I’ll get and in the future hopefully I’ll be able to speak fluent Spanish.
What’s ‘Pass the ball’ in Spanish?
Erm… pasar el balón.
You must hear that a lot from Ronaldo on the pitch, surely?
Yeah, but he speaks English!
Your burgeoning friendship with Ronaldo has been much publicised. Has he given you any free pairs of his pants?
[Laughs] Um, yeah – he gave everyone in the changing room a pair. They’re nice.
How do you decide who takes free-kicks? Is there a rota?
We have a discussion about the position of the free-kick and which player it suits best, and what is best for the team.
When not fighting over free-kicks at the Bernabeu, you’ve been teaching your technique to grass-roots players for Lucozade Sport. Have Real Madrid got you scouting new Galacticos?
It’s always nice to show people these tips. Every kid wants to be a footballer and execute their free-kicks, so hopefully they’ll get the art down to a tee.
You walked to training at Spurs and once chose to visit family in Cardiff for a big holiday. Is it hard to stay grounded now?
Nah, you’re your own person. I do the same as normal and I don’t change just because I’m at another club. I’m exactly the same as I was – I’m not scared to be myself.
Given that British footballers rarely play abroad, your move to Madrid was certainly a brave one. Do you think more players should consider it?
I think more players should move abroad. Every other country’s players move to England at a young age, and there’s no right or wrong age to move – you should do it when you want to or an opportunity comes up. For me, I wanted to learn more about different types of football, other cultures and test myself. So yeah, if other players have that opportunity I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t take it – [you can] make yourself a better all-round player and person.
With you and Aaron Ramsey, the future of the Welsh national team looks bright. Will it be frustrating watching the World Cup?
I suppose it’s frustrating in a way, [but] I don’t look at it as frustration. Obviously I’d love to be playing in the World Cup, but it’s not meant to be at this moment in time. We have an exciting group of young Welsh players and we will do all we can to qualify for the next major tournament. I’ll take the opportunity to recover from the season and have the holidays instead of playing football all summer, which isn’t a bad thing. Hopefully I can get myself ready and recovered, and have a good season for Madrid.
Who will you be supporting – England or your newly adopted homeland, Spain?
[Pause] Erm… I dunno. I’ll just watch the tournament as a whole and enjoy all the teams that are playing.
Very diplomatic. Have you found yourself getting into Spanish culture? Has it been a lot of tapas and siestas?
Yeah, the food’s nice. Spanish omelettes are nice over here. Little things like that are good to have, but obviously you bring the things you’re used to over here as well.
A nap in the sunshine can’t go amiss, either?
Lucozade Sport ambassador and Real Madrid star Gareth Bale has all the tips you need to become a deadball specialist: youtube.com/user/lucozade