Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale said it had been nice to be applauded off at the Bernabeu after his double strike in Sunday evening’s 7-1 La Liga win against Deportivo La Coruna, joking that it made a nice change from being whistled.
The Bernabeu was very restless early in the game when relegation threatened Depor went 1-0 up through Adrian Lopez, but defender Nacho soon equalised and Bale then put Madrid ahead with a trademark curling strike.
The Welshman made it 3-1 early in the second half with a towering header from a Toni Kroos corner, and Luka Modric’s 20-yard curler, Cristiano Ronaldo’s double strike and Nacho’s second of the game lead to a scoreline which will help ease the pressure on Blancos’ boss Zinedine Zidane.
The former Tottenham player has been whistled at intervals throughout his four and a half seasons in Spain, and just last summer the consensus around the Bernabeu was that his time at the club was over.
But the 28-year-old has returned from injury in excellent form in recent months, and he told ESPN FC in the stadium’s mixed zone that hearing the Blancos fans chant his name had made for a nice change.
“Yeah, instead of whistles, which is always good,” Bale said. “It would have been nice to have stayed on to get the hat trick, but the most important thing is always to get the victory and to try and get some confidence back in the team.”
With six goals in just seven La Liga starts, Bale is now level with Ronaldo as the team’s top scorer in the competition, while he made decisive cameo interventions from the bench against both Fuenlabrada in the Copa del Rey in November and Al Jazira at the Club World Cup in December as he returned carefully from ankle and calf problems.
“I think I can be important but at the end of the day you have to prove it,” he said. “I feel like I have been doing that of late. And I have been working hard to stay fit. I have to keep playing the best I can. I’m almost there I think. It’s been a while since my ankle operation and I felt 100 percent.
“It’s only been very recently that I have been without pain in my ankle, so I am getting there game by game. I keep working game by game and hopefully I’ll be there very soon.”
Bale admitted to some frustration at having to mostly watch on as La Liga leaders Barcelona built up their current 16-point advantage in the table.
“Any sports person would tell you it’s not very nice and frustrating to watch your team play and not be able to help them,” he said. “But injuries happen in sport, and all you can do is get back as soon as you can.”
The victory lifted Madrid to fourth in the table, with last year’s title winners now seemingly in a race with Valencia, Villarreal and Sevilla for the final two Champions League qualification positions.
“We have to win every game we play,” Bale said. “However many points we are behind in the league. We need to secure Champions League football which is important first, and then we need to grow in confidence.
“We’ll just keep working hard to win games and do as best we can. Hopefully the confidence will now grow and grow, as winning games breeds confidence.”
Asked if he had watched much of Paris Saint Germain ahead of Neymar and company’s visit to the Bernabeu in the Champions League next month, Bale suggested he had other ways to use his free time.
“I don’t really watch much football, I’d rather watch the golf to be honest,” he said. “We’ve not really thought about the Champions League yet, it’s still a bit of time away. We have to focus on each and every game at the moment, build confidence and get back to winning ways.”
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan