Did you watch El Clasico on Saturday evening? I refer, of course, to Real Madrid vs Barcelona in the Spanish league, La Liga. The odds are that you didn’t – in the UK, the match was shown on Eleven Sports and Premier Sports, which are hardly competing on a level playing field with Sky or BT. Top football as niche entertainment. As you will assuredly know if you were interested in the outcome, Barcelona won 1-0.
The Welsh international player, Gareth Bale, started the game for Madrid. Given that in his team’s defeat of Liverpool in last year’s Champions League Final he scored the most outrageous, acrobatic overhead kick one could ever see, that might seem normal, but it has not been the way of things lately. In the opinion of some members of the Madrid squad, it might be no bad thing if Bale bailed. You see, he likes playing golf too much.
Notwithstanding Seve Ballesteros, José Maria Olazábal and Sergio Garcia, golf is not that big a deal in Spain. Certainly not compared to the UK. Michael Owen and Theo Walcott are just two former England internationals who were keen on getting their clubs out at any opportunity, and golf would seem to be an ideal way for rich young men to spend the great deal of spare time they have on their hands after training. Better than going down the pub or into the bookies, one would have thought?
I’ll return to that point in a moment but apparently Bale’s nickname at Madrid is ‘The Golfer’. This is not intended as a compliment. It was bestowed upon him by Thibaut Courtois, the Belgium goalkeeper who played for Chelsea last season and who has seemingly become the dressing room equivalent of Oscar Wilde with his ‘wit’ and non-bonhomie. The feeling of some players is that Bale spends too much time hanging out with his old mates from home, sometimes playing the par-3 replica holes he has had constructed around his house in Wales. (The 8th at Royal Troon, 12th at Augusta National and 17th at TPC Sawgrass.)
While one can see that a Spanish-living Belgian might not get it about golf, the aversion extends to Bale’s manager of the Wales national team. It was a year ago that Ryan Giggs prevented Bale, and his Welsh teammates Aaron Ramsey and Wayne Hennessey, from playing golf while the team was in China for an international friendly; some rubbish or other about how swinging a club might put too much strain on their bodies.
Bale is the undisputed superstar of the Wales team, a status which is reflected in the fact that he ranks in the top-three of the wealthiest British sportsmen, behind only Rory McIlroy, who is quite a nifty golfer himself, and Andy Murray – this pre his operation and possible enforced retirement. Giggs may not care for the golf but the fans in Cardiff are devoted to Bale in a way they seem not to be in the Spanish capital. Anyhow, Bale was hooked (in a non-golfing sense) after 61 minutes on Saturday night with Real already trailing. Still, no one can take his four Champions League winner’s medals from him. Nor all his money. As long as he remains in Madrid, I think he’ll manage to handle Courtois’ sarcasm.
You can follow Robert Green on Twitter @robrtgreen and enjoy his other blog f-factors.com plus you can read more by him on golf at robertgreengolf.com