n August, Gareth Bale gave an interview to the Observer which was almost comical in its non-committal blandness.
Even by the standards of professional footballers, Bale managed to give very little away over the course of 16 quick-fire questions.
He answered “nothing” to queries about what made him unhappy and what he would change about his past, and revealed he “wouldn’t want anyone else” to play him in a biopic.
Asked what he had wanted to be when growing up, Bale, who appeared to be promoting Rowbots gym, said: “I just wanted to fulfil my potential.”
There was almost nothing to be gleaned about Bale the man, his motivations or desires, but one answer, perhaps, did contain a degree of poignancy. Asked for his greatest fear, Bale replied: “Not being the best version of myself. In football and in life.”
Bale is one of the finest and most successful British players of his generation, maybe of all time, but there is still a case that he has not been the “best version” of himself on the pitch in recent years.
He has played just two hours of football for Real Madrid in the past six months and last started more than 15 League games in a season in 2018-19.
Whatever the true circumstances of Bale’s Real purgatory, these are clearly not the statistics of a player determined to squeeze every last drop from his talent.
Bale almost single-handedly dragging Wales through their World Cup play-off against Austria last week proved he is still one of the sport’s ultimate clutch players and foremost magicians, but it is intriguing to compare him to his former Real team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo. Both are sublimely gifted players, but Ronaldo has maintained an unquenchable thirst for goals, records and the limelight, which is no longer shared by Bale, at least at club level.
Instead, the 32-year-old’s focus has been reduced to the singular goal of reaching the World Cup with Wales, to the point where he is considering retirement immediately after the tournament and could hang up his boots in June if they do not qualify.
For anyone who has enjoyed Bale’s brilliance over the years, there is a degree of frustration in knowing that he is still good enough to elevate this stodgy Real side to another level, as he has done for his country. He could have been the club’s post-Ronaldo inspiration.
This is seemingly part of the reason for the bile spewed at Bale by the Spanish media. He has seen Real for what they really are — questionable employers and a big business — and by refusing to play their game, he has not only humiliated them, he has fundamentally weakened them.
And, given Bale’s well-documented treatment in Spain, why shouldn’t he?
Bale, do not forget, worked every bit as hard as Ronaldo to reach the top, transforming himself from a skinny left-back, who was nearly released by Southampton and then nearly sold by Tottenham to Birmingham, into one of the world’s most explosive forwards, at one point behind only the Portuguese and Lionel Messi.
If his fire no longer burns so brightly, that is understandable and okay. To despise Bale for wanting to enjoy the fruits of his labours or to scold him for not maintaining a laser-focus on self-improvement would be to hold footballers to dramatically different standards to everyone else.
For players, football is a job, the game is a professional environment and, for the majority, their clubs are employers rather than passion projects.
How many of us would continue to give our all in the twilight of our careers in a profession where we had already reached the top, achieved almost everything possible, if we then found ourselves saddled with an employer who did not really want us and a succession of bosses who sided with our detractors?
In an age when we are increasingly told to enjoy ourselves and maintain a proper work-life balance, Bale appears to be doing just that as he winds down his Real contract, all while continuing to reach extraordinary levels for Wales.
Having achieved what he has for Real, Bale has earned the right to disengage from the club’s psychodrama: to play golf, to spend time with his family, to prioritise his country, to give bland interviews and to promote rowing machines. This may not be the best version of Bale “in football”, but perhaps it is “in life”, which is ultimately more important.
Chelsea FC: Brilliant Badiashile leading way for new signings as Thiago Silva partnership blossoms
His promising early form at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea will hope, hint at better times to come through their new signings.
The arrival of French centre-back Badiashile at the start of last month kick-started a record January spending spree of more than £300m.
After Chelsea were sent spiralling into crisis with defeats by Manchester City and Fulham, Badiashile made his debut in a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.
After the Blues claimed a further two clean sheets in 0-0 draws away at Liverpool and at home to Fulham, he is building an impressive partnership with Thiago Silva.
Badiashile was one of five new signings to feature in Friday’s 0-0 draw with Fulham. He started alongside £106.8m Enzo Fernandez, who started well but faded over 90 minutes, £89.5m Mykhailo Mudryk, who struggled over 45 minutes while carrying a cold, and £30m Noni Madueke, who was bright after being brought on at half-time.
“What a waste of money” was the regular chant from the Fulham fans in the away end.
That felt harsh in Badiashile’s case. With his size and speed, he looks like a perfect partner for 38-year-old veteran Silva.
In addition, he showed the ability to play brilliantly out of Fulham’s well-drilled press and he coped in his duels against Aleksandar Mitrovic.
There is still adaption to be done, as Graham Potter barked instructions about his positioning in relation to Silva.
However, using French to communicate with the former Paris Saint-Germain captain, Badiashile has helped steady the ship in the absence of the injured Wesley Fofana, and with Kalidou Koulibaly out of form.
While still only averaging just 1.05 goals per game in the Premier League, Chelsea will draw more than they win unless their new midfielders and forwards step up.
Arriving in the weeks after Badiashile, the likes of Fernandez, Joao Felix, Mudryk and Madueke have not had as much time to adapt to their surroundings.
With Chelsea still in 10th place and increasingly falling behind in the race to qualify for Europe, they must follow Badiashile’s lead and hit the ground running before time runs out.
Reporter’s notebook: Jesse Marsch’s Leeds side showed encouraging signs at times but lack of points cost him his job | Football News
Jesse Marsch was approaching his one-year anniversary as Leeds United head coach before the decision was taken on Monday to relieve him of his duties.
The defeat to Nottingham Forest a day earlier had been the final straw for the Leeds board, who were all aligned in the view that a change was necessary after almost three months without a Premier League win.
The recent statistics paint a grim picture for Leeds. Seven Premier League games without a win and just two wins in the last 17 league games. And against Forest, although they dominated in the first half and created the better chances, a worrying pattern had started to develop which had become a huge concern for fans. Leeds were producing performances with lots of positives, but not enough points.
There is little doubt that a large proportion of the fan base had lost patience with Marsch, and they made their frustrations clear at the full-time whistle on Sunday with calls for a change of head coach.
What is very evident is that Leeds have not kicked on this season. At times there have been really promising signs, but the fans and the board at Leeds wanted more. Marsch will feel that with time he could have delivered more, but he was also realistic enough to know that he was walking a tightrope.
I got to know Jesse well during his 12 months at Elland Road and it was abundantly clear he cared passionately about the club. He understood what it meant to be head coach of Leeds United and what the club meant to the city and the fans. And he has to be given great credit for keeping Leeds in the Premier League last season.
Although it hasn’t worked out for Marsch this season, there is a strong argument to suggest that the next Leeds boss will be in a great position to move the club forward.
Patrick Bamford and Luis Sinisterra are now fit, and the January additions should make the starting line-up stronger. The club has also invested heavily in young players and one of those, Willy Gnonto, has emerged as one of the shining lights of the season.
Those factors have created an expectation that Leeds are better than their current league position, and that means a reluctance to accept another season fighting to avoid the drop. It also means that there are reasons to be optimistic about the future.
The process of finding a replacement for Marsch is already underway and Leeds hope to make a swift appointment. A move for Marcelo Bielsa is highly unlikely, but West Brom boss Carlos Corberan, who worked under Bielsa, is a candidate, while Ange Postecoglou at Celtic has also been linked.
It is also worth noting Leeds have a track record of leftfield appointments, so as they work through their list of targets, there is a good chance that a candidate emerges that could surprise everybody.
In the meantime, Michael Skubala, Paco Gallardo and Chris Armas will take training at Thorp Arch, and will be in the dugout for Wednesday’s Premier League fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
February 8: Manchester United (A) – kick-off 8pm
February 12: Manchester United (H) – kick-off 2pm, live on Sky Sports
February 18: Everton (A) – kick-off 3pm
February 25: Southampton (H) – kick-off 3pm
March 4: Chelsea (A) – kick-off 3pm
March 11: Brighton (H) – kick-off 3pm
March 18: Wolves (A) – kick-off 3pm
Tom Brady in his underwear is taking over Twitter
It’s Super Bowl week, and if you thought Tom Brady was going to let this week go by without being all up in your timeline…well. Just a week after announcing he’s retiring from football (you’ll never convince me he didn’t play an extra year just to stick it to Adam Schefter), Tom Brady has dropped his first thirst trap on Twitter. Or, attempted thirst trap. Actually, IS this a thirst trap?
As will many things Tom Brady, the attempt to be cool and edgy just winds up being sterile, boring, and kinda sad. A beige man in a beige room in beige underwear with a “pleass clap” look on his face.
And because OF COURSE:
Yes, Tom. We all knew the plug as coming. I’m not sure what color “heather crimson” is supposed to be, but I believe this is what we used to call “puce,” which… meh. The fact that there is something called the “Brady Boxer Brief” is enough to make me want to stick my head in the oven, because you know there are guys in New England burning up the internet right now to wear the same undies as their hero. And even more so because no amount of refusing to mask during COVID, vouching for Antonio Brown, stumping for Donald Trump, or getting a PPP loan during a nationwide pandemic is enough to get people to stop buying what this guy is selling. He’s even gotten to Jane Fonda, for crying out loud.
Of course, this entire thing was set up by Brady’s own brand:
So…whatever. It’s Super Bowl week and everyone is talking about Tom Brady, which is exactly how he wants it to be.
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