If Euro 2020 has displayed one characteristic about Gareth Bale, it is that even at his lowest point he does not accept defeat.
His career looked to be heading towards a disappointing conclusion after being frozen out by Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, with injuries arriving more often than game time.
But heading into the multi-nation tournament this summer, Bale has turned around his fortunes after returning to his roots with Tottenham — and Wales have reaped the rewards.
The 31-year-old was instrumental in helping Wales secure a crucial 2-0 victory over Turkey on Wednesday, which should be enough to send Robert Page’s side through to the knockout stages.
It capped a valiant resurgence from the £85million man who has shown the same quality and leadership that enabled him to add four Champions League titles and two LaLiga winners’ medals to his trophy cabinet.
What his future will entail following the tournament remains unknown, with Bale keeping his cards close to his chest. But it is clear the Euros will not be the last chapter in his career at the highest level.
Far from being “finished”, Bale has undergone a remarkable transformation and is just getting started.
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Bale claims he already knows what he is going to do next season, admitting his decision “could cause chaos”.
“It will happen after the Euros,” Bale told Sky Sports, when asked about decisions regarding his future.
“I know what I’m doing but it will just cause chaos if I say anything.”
The forward enjoyed an impressive season in his second stint with Tottenham after returning on loan, bagging 16 goals in 32 appearances and linking up with Harry Kane and Heung-min Son to form a devastating frontline.
With a year left to run on his contract, Bale’s exorbitant wages would suggest a permanent move away from Real Madrid is unlikely and he could see out his contract on the bench, which certainly would outrage the Madridstas.
Whether that means he will stay in Madrid for a final season, rejoin Tottenham for a second season or leave for a new challenge elsewhere remains unclear. But just like in 2013, the topic of his future has Spurs fans on the edge of their seats.
Euro 2020 revival
There were accusations that his priorities were arranged as: “Wales. Golf. Madrid”. Even if it is not far from the truth, it conveniently omits the fact his fallout with Zidane has played a key part in his demise.
Usually, the Spanish press would jump at the chance to revel in Bale’s misery. It happened when he missed a penalty against Turkey, skying his effort over the crossbar with the score at 1-0.
AS journalist Tomas Roncero tweeted: “Gales Bale ha vuelto a ser Gareth Bale”, which translates to “Wales Bale is Gareth Bale again”, referring to his struggles in Madrid.
But an hour later, after watching Bale add to his fine assists for Aaron Ramsey with another for Connor Roberts, Roncero followed up his tweet with: “Gales Bale ha vuelto”, meaning “Wales Bale is back”.
Even those in Spain, who once believed he was an expensive has-been and perhaps still do, have begrudgingly acknowledged that he is finding form again.
Curiously, Bale has actually failed to score in his last 13 games for his country, but his influence goes far beyond just goals.
As Wales look set to progress to the latter stages of the tournament, Bale has convinced people there is still some magic left in him yet.
It is telling that at Euro 2016, Bale was deployed almost as a central striker. Everything went through him because he was Wales’ star, their very own Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.
But in both of Wales’ matches at Euro 2020, the 31-year-old has drifted off to the right-hand side and floated around in deeper midfield positions.
It certainly makes sense, what with Kieffer Moore’s aerial prowess through the middle. Bale’s role is more fluid, allowing him to roam and pick out passes for runners in behind, as he did expertly with a pinpoint assist for Ramsey’s opener.
In a sense, he has followed the same positional trajectory as Wayne Rooney. He is his country’s all-time goalscorer with 33 goals in 94 caps, a title Rooney also held for England.
But when it emerged the Manchester United legend no longer had the pace or fitness to get past defenders when leading the line, he dropped deeper and United benefitted from his intelligent passing.
The same could be said for Bale, who was outpaced by Turkey’s Caglar Soyuncu in a race for the ball. But with two assists and a man of the match performance to go with them, perhaps he has found his calling for the latter stages of his career.
Relationship with Ancelotti
That change in position could be crucial in helping Bale convince Carlo Ancelotti he is worthy of a place in his Real Madrid squad next season.
The pair enjoyed a fruitful relationship during Ancelotti’s tenure, winning the Champions League and Copa del Rey in 2014, with the Uefa Super Cup following after.
Responding to news of Ancelotti’s return earlier in June, Bale told Sky Sports: “He’s returned to Real Madrid and he’s a great manager, a great guy.
“We had a great time together at Real Madrid and he’s an amazing person to have in charge of Real Madrid, I’m sure he’s going to be amazing.”
The Welshman would still face a battle with Eden Hazard, Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo for a place in Madrid’s attack.
But after his disagreement under his previous manager, Bale knows he could be the biggest beneficiary from Ancelotti’s return to the Spanish capital.