UNDER normal circumstances, Gareth Bale would expect to be the centre of attention when he makes a triumphant return to Cardiff as a European champion.
Having scored a crucial extra-time goal to send Real Madrid on their way to a dramatic Champions League final victory over neighbours Atletico in May, the Welsh forward is now hoping to help his team start the new campaign with another trophy as they face Europa League winners Sevilla in an all-Spanish Uefa Super Cup final.
However, Real Madrid are certainly not a “normal” club, and a hectic summer of transfer activity at the Bernabeu has ensured Bale will have to settle for a share of the limelight when he travels to his home town.
Bale is just one piece of a complex jigsaw for manager Carlo Ancelotti, who has a delicate task in attempting to guide a squad worth more than £500 million — the most expensively assembled in football history — to an improvement on their feats of last season, when they won the Champions League but could only finish third in La Liga, behind Atletico and a Barcelona squad formed for about £300 million.
The new big attraction is Colombian superstar James Rodriguez, whose spectacular World Cup exploits in winning the Golden Boot resulted in Los Blancos paying £63m to sign him from Monaco.
Rodriguez’s arrival has prompted immense excitement among Real Madrid fans — especially the city’s sizeable Colombian expat population, thousands of whom turned out to welcome their hero when he was officially unveiled at the Bernabeu last month.
An indication of Rodriguez’s exalted status among his countrymen is the fact that even the government’s ambassador to Spain, Fernando Carillo, waxed lyrical about the 23-year-old’s transfer.
“The Colombian population here in Madrid is very united and that’s in large part thanks to James Rodriguez,” Carillo told Marca. “Every time he touches the ball, it will be as though Colombia is on the pitch.”
Before long, those Madrid-based Colombian fans could be propelled into an even greater state of frenzy by the arrival of Radamel Falcao, a long-term target for Real who has been tipped to take the same path as Rodriguez from Monaco to Madrid.
For now, though, Karim Benzema remains the squad’s only out-and-out striker, with the talented Frenchman at the point of a mouth-watering attack which also contains the superstar trio of Rodriguez, Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, unlike many modern managers, Ancelotti is a flexible coach who adapts to the capabilities of his players rather than expecting them to fit into a pre-determined style of play, and the Italian will regularly vary his team’s formation depending upon the demands of each game.
That approach will be greatly facilitated by the fact that Bale, Rodriguez and Ronaldo are all versatile performers, capable of lining up on either flank or playing through the middle, allowing Ancelotti to switch between 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formations with relative ease.
Considering the dazzling array of creative talent at Ancelotti’s disposal (Spaniards Isco and Jese Rodriguez will also receive their fair share of playing time this season) perhaps an even more important role will fall to another newly arrived World Cup star, Toni Kroos.
With just a year remaining on his contract at Bayern Munich, the Germany international was snapped up for a bargain £24 million after further enhancing his reputation with a series of outstanding performances in Brazil.
Now, Kroos faces the task of becoming Real’s long-term replacement for Xabi Alonso in the centre of midfield — the orchestrator who makes things tick while the glamour boys up front grab the headlines.
It’s a selfless task which Alonso has executed superbly for the past five years, but he will be 33 in November and a series of injury problems has made it glaringly obvious that the former Liverpool man will have to become a squad player rather than an automatic starter week in, week out. — BBC.