| Cesc Fabregas |
At Barcelona’s jubilant Nou Camp, there was never going to be too much tea and sympathy flowing towards the dispirited mob in white, but Cesc Fabregas still had the grace to not appear too gleeful as he found an empathetic and encouraging word for an old north London foe currently fallen on dispiriting times.
Gareth Bale had already departed with neither a smile nor a word to the global media throng after his wholly underwhelming ‘clasico’ bow and you could not blame him as the Madrid scribes were busy scribbling their match ratings which had the £86 million man at the bottom of the class.
So it needed an ex-Arsenal prodigy, who knows all about the peculiar difficulties of coping with great expectations in the Spanish game after making your name as a special young talent in England, to offer the most understanding voice in support of an ex-Tottenham phenomenon.
Understanding, but also realistic. Even with the advantages of being born and bred here Fabregas is only now, in his third season, getting to grips with his place in such a gilded firmament. So he warned what a difficult transition it would be for a player carrying that millstone of the ‘world’s most expensive player’.
Asked if he believed Bale would succeed despite his difficult Galactico infancy, he shrugged: “It’s up to him. He’s got a lot of pressure. A hundred million euros! It’s massive! But a great player is a great player and I’m sure he’ll overcome it.
“I don’t know how he feels because I haven’t spoken to him, but you need to adapt when you come to this league. It’s completely different to the Premier League; there’s not that much space and when you get the ball, you have more opponents on you. Tactically, La Liga is much better than EPL. He needs time.”
But time, you fancy, is exactly what Bale does not have. Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, watching from the VIP seats, covets the sort of immediate return on his investment that his Barcelona counterpart Sandro Rosell savoured as Neymar, half the price and twice as effective as man of the match, scored one and made the other, an exquisite goal from Alexis, in Barca’s 2-1 win.
What must Perez have thought about a largely anonymous hour’s labour from Bale, notable for only a booking and two long skied strikes? The story, after all, goes that Neymar had been his original target, but his ham-fistedness in negotiations with the Brazilian’s handlers ended up forcing Neymar into Barca’s bosom.
Of course, Bale has still been in Spain for only six weeks and even though he now seems physically fit he is patently still seeking to shed the ring rust. Yet it is impossible to escape the feeling that Real manager Carlo Ancelotti, while offering the generous assessment that Bale did not do too bad, still does not really know how best to accommodate him.
Not playing Bale is presumably not an option, because the Italian must be under his own intolerable pressure to put this prize new toy into the biggest display window. Why else would such a quality manager feel this was either the time and place to plunge Bale into an experimental ‘false nine’ position, quite alien to him. So he was later tried out on either flank in a system which seemed to suit neither him nor his strike partners, Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria.