The Wales international is the constant target of whistles and jeers by the Blancos faithful – but he isn’t the only one
Just as how Manchester City walk out to ‘Hey Jude’ before games and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ soundtracks Liverpool and Dortmund matches, Gareth Bale has his own personal anthem – that of Real Madrid fans booing him during games. But why does he get such negative treatment?
The first time that Bale was booed by Real Madrid fans was five months after he joined the side for a then-record €100 million (£85m/$118m) fee in 2014. By that time, he had already netted eight times and made seven assists, but a misplaced pass against Granada led to a section of Blancos fans instantly jeering him.
He’s been booed plenty of times since then, but the boos and whistles came to a head in March 2019 during Real Madrid’s 1-0 loss to Barcelona at the Bernabeu. He was largely anonymous during the game, and he was jeered off the pitch when he came off for Marco Asensio. A week earlier, Bale refused to celebrate his winning goal against Levante and brushed off his team-mates’ embraces, which drew fierce criticism from the Spanish press.
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It has also been suggested that Bale does not have the full support of those around him at the club following public criticism from team-mates Marcelo and Thibaut Courtois – with the Belgian recently lambasting him for skipping out on a team dinner. Head coach Santiago Solari has also distanced himself from any kind of trouble in the dressing room and hasn’t really come to his defence, and has relegated him to a spot on the bench in recent weeks.
Though Bale was touted as a potential replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo following the striker’s move to Juventus in the summer of 2018, he has failed to step up to the plate.
On the flip side of the spectrum, Isco – whom Solari is also prone to benching – was given a tremendous reception when he came on for Casemiro in the 75th minute of the same Clasico that Bale was jeered at in March.
But Bale has always been an unpopular player ever since his debut season. Though he has enjoyed a glittering career at the Bernabeu, winning four Champions League trophies since joining from Tottenham, his inconsistent form, poor European performances and extended injury lay-offs have made him unfavourable with the supporters.
He was booed heavily in the latter half of his first season with the Spaniards even when Real won matches, with fans turning on him immediately whenever he missed a shot or misplaced a pass.
Despite playing a key part in the 2014 and 2018 Champions League finals – scoring to give his side a 2-1 lead against Atletico in the former and then scoring a brace against Liverpool in the latter to clinch a 3-1 victory – he has still failed to win over the Real Madrid fans.
Bale’s agent Jonathan Bennett has criticised the treatment that the forward receives, stating: “This generation of Real fans will be talking about Gareth’s goals for years to come.
“Frankly they should be ashamed of themselves. Gareth deserves the greatest of respect. The way the Real fans have treated Gareth is nothing short of a disgrace. In the six years he has been in Spain, he has won everything. He’s one of the best players in the world. Those fans should be kissing his feet.”
Bale’s lack of integration into Spanish culture has also been the target of his criticism, having not grasped a fluent understanding of the language and stating he would rather watch golf instead of La Liga.
The Welshman isn’t the only Real Madrid player to have been booed by fans in recent history, however. His team-mate Karim Benzema is also a frequent recipient of jeers and whistles, particularly when he is on a bad run of form and suffering from a goalscoring drought.
“I play football and I try to help my team-mates and to win everything there is to win,” the France international told Vanity Fair in 2018 during a particularly difficult time at Real Madrid, where he had scored just five times in 26 La Liga appearances.
“What I don’t like is when people attack me when I play well, even if I don’t score. I play for the people who value what I do on the pitch.
“Those that come to the stadium to whistle, let them whistle. I’m not going to change their opinion.”
Ronaldo’s status as one of the greatest players of all-time is undisputed, but even he was the recipient of occasional jeers from the Real Madrid faithful during his time at the Spanish capital. Despite being Real Madrid’s record goalscorer with 450 strikes in all competitions, even he hasn’t been immune to their high standards.
Fans at the Bernabeu booed the Portugal forward after missing simple chances during various games, with one such fixture being the Champions League fixture against Napoli in 2017. The negative reception even caused captain Sergio Ramos to come forward and address the criticism: “I would tell the fans to think a little first… He’s a historic player for Real Madrid, he keeps proving that year after year, look at what he’s achieved.”
A year earlier, in 2016, fans took issue with the forward after he missed a slew of opportunities in a Champions League game against Roma, despite the Spaniards eventually winning the tie.
Former Galactico and Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane then recalled his own experiences of fan hostility, telling the media via Marca after the game: “I don’t understand the jeers for Ronaldo but at the same time, I look at it and note that it even happened to me.”
The legendary Frenchman was a celebrated player in Spain, but a victim of Barcelona’s dominance in the 2000s that coincided with his time at the club. Zidane won the Champions League during his debut season as a Real Madrid player, but won just one La Liga title prior to his retirement in 2006.
Once winning trophies came to an end, so did their love of Zidane, and praise of his name at the grounds was exchanged for hostile boos and whistles.
Real Madrid supporters also gave Brazilian Ronaldo a tough time after he won just won one La Liga with the Blancos. They’ve never let him forget about his solitary league trophy, and once he started to put on weight, they were merciless.
“I have thought about it thousands of times and spoken to my people about it and I don’t know why the fans have so much impatience with me. One mistake and they whistle me,” he said in 2006.
“It is no secret that I am not happy in the stadium [the Bernabeu]. My record speaks for itself and I’m capable of self-criticism.
“I feel happy with my weight; it hasn’t changed for a long time and people criticise without knowing all the facts. I would just like to know why they treat me the way they do.”
It seems that Real Madrid, one of the most decorated signs in all of European football, have grown accustomed to success and lifting silverware, and their fans assume that their players give their absolute best performances. As a European heavyweight, Los Blancos fans are extremely demanding of their club and their players, and expect their team to give their 110 per cent each time.
After all that they have been used to, anything less than that – even 90% – may not be enough for them.