Bale makes emphatic point after Champions League omission
If Gareth Bale set out to prove a point in Kiev on Saturday, he absolutely succeeded in his mission.
Bale's absence from the Real Madrid starting XI for their Champions League final clash with Liverpool will have hurt.
The Wales international has been frustrated at not being a first-team fixture at Madrid this season, and having to take a place on the bench for a second successive final will have come as a test of patience and character, even for a man so supremely confident in his own ability.
Bale did not warm up with the rest of his team-mates before the match but was called upon after an hour with the scores level at 1-1 – Sadio Mane having produced a swift response to Karim Benzema's fortuitous opener early in the second half.
Whatever the reason behind his pre-match no show, Bale was more than ready to perform.
It took the 28-year-old just two minutes to produce what he later acknowledged was the best goal of his career – a perfectly executed bicycle kick that swung the match back in Madrid's favour.
"On the biggest stage in world football, to score a goal like that is a dream come true," he said of the strike, which gave Loris Karius – at fault for Madrid's first – no chance.
— #CHAMP13NS (@realmadrid) May 26, 2018
And it was Bale who wrapped up the 3-1 win with a 25-yard strike that somehow evaded the hands of goalkeeper Karius, who had a memorable evening for all the wrong reasons.
Bale had scored five goals in five matches heading into the final and had every right to believe that he should be starting, or at least consider that he could hold down a regular first-team berth at one of Europe's other footballing heavyweights.
Those frustrations look likely to come to a head during the forthcoming transfer window. Either Bale receives assurances over his place in the team or there is a genuine possibility his heroic performance from the bench could be his final act for Madrid.
Bale was pressed several times on the prospect of a departure after the match and his response was invariably the same - that he would sit down with his agent to consider the situation.
His careful choice of words contrasted starkly with that of team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, who stole the headlines by springing the surprise that he too could be considering his future with the club.
Bale has been linked with Bayern Munich, Manchester United and former club Tottenham over the last couple of seasons but there will be no shortage of sides who would love to sign a player of the Welshman's calibre.
Whether he was trying to prove a point to Zinedine Zidane, his critics or himself in Kiev on Saturday, Bale can surely have done no more to demonstrate that he still belongs on the biggest stage.