MADRID (Reuters) - Gareth Bale will have to find his place within a star-studded Madrid line-up quickly because the world’s most expensive player is sure to be compared constantly with his new team mate Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Neymar.
As if that were not enough, the name of David Beckham will also be thrown into the mix as the 24-year-old Welshman arrives 10 years after the former England captain and marketing machine left the Premier League for La Liga.
Bale lands at the Bernabeu with a hefty 100 million euro ($131.86 million) price tag and the need to impress one of the most demanding audiences in the world every time he steps out on to the pitch.
Ronaldo sets the standard and is seen to have justified his $125 million transfer fee from 2009, scoring 202 goals in 202 matches.
Despite a few run-ins with Madrid fans, no one has ever doubted Ronaldo’s voracious appetite for goals and his commitment to win every single game.
Real’s arch-rivals Barcelona have splashed 57 million euros to sign Brazil forward Neymar and just as Ronaldo has had to get used to constant comparisons with Lionel Messi, Bale will be expected to outperform the Catalans’ new boy.
Bale, whose versatility is a mixed blessing, is likely to form a formidable front three with Ronaldo and France striker Karim Benzema.
Bale can play down either flank, centrally behind the striker, in a deeper midfield role or even at full back but new boss Carlo Ancelotti has yet to settle on a fixed formation.
He will be tussling for a place with the likes of Argentina winger Angel Di Maria, Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil, Real’s exciting new attacking midfielder Isco and former Spurs team mate Luka Modric.
Bale excelled at Spurs with his surging runs into space but he will need to adapt to La Liga’s slower, more tactical games, against teams who typically defend in numbers against Real.
Handling a partisan local media that regards a couple of games without a goal as a ‘crisis’ is another new concept Bale will need to assimilate, and the intensity of the fervour will be doubled if Neymar and Barca are overshadowing his and Real’s progress.
Bale would appear to hold the upper hand in this contest as the 21-year-old Neymar has a steeper learning curve in adapting to European football, and although he is outrageously talented, there are doubts over his slight physique.
Neymar is, however, an established international certain to feature in next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil, in which Wales will not feature, and it is this global piece of the jigsaw which Real are particularly keen to exploit with Bale.
The astronomical fee paid for the winger can only begin to be understood when the player’s marketing impact is brought into the equation, and that is where comparisons with Beckham enter the frame.
Real are the richest club by income in the world ahead of Spanish champions Barca, according to the annual survey by accounting firm Deloitte, and Bale’s capture is essential for them to continue to develop their income streams around the globe.
Beckham’s reach, which transcended football, helped fire Real’s brand growth internationally between 2003 and 2007.
They will be hoping for more of the same with Bale, whose image has been used by British Telecom to promote their new sports television service in Britain, and by NBC in their advert for coverage of the Premier League in the United States.
His ability to attract international supporters and new sponsors, especially in the English-speaking world, is one thing, but he will be judged by the Bernabeu for his performances on the pitch, particularly in the Champions League and against Barca.
That is where the comparisons with Ronaldo and with Neymar will be put sharply into focus.
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Reporting by Mark Elkington; Editing by Ed Osmond and Pritha Sarkar