MADRID, May 22: On the final day of the English Premier League season in May last year, Gareth Bale produced the latest in a series of wonder goals to hand Tottenham Hotspur a 1-0 win over Sunderland.
On Saturday, Bale will be playing in all white against a side in red and white stripes once more in his last game of the season, but in very different circumstances as Real Madrid meet Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final in Lisbon.
A Spurs victory wasn’t enough that day to seal Champions League football as they lost out once more to north London neighbours Arsenal for fourth place and set in motion an anxious summer for Bale as he tried to force through a move to the world’s richest club.
Finally, on September 1, a deal was officially announced with the Welshman reportedly becoming the most expensive player in world football in the move to the Spanish capital.
That summer stress and early criticism of his time at Madrid as he suffered from niggling injuries due to the lack of a pre-season has now been long forgotten as Bale has the scene he craved waiting for him at the Estadio da Luz on Saturday.
“These are the reasons why you come to Real Madrid, to the biggest club in the world, to play in finals and try and win trophies and I am obviously looking forward to it,” said the Welshman as he faced the glare of over 300 media personnel at Real’s open day ahead of the final.
“I always dreamed of playing a Champions League final. It was always the target and now it has come around. We have one more step to go and hopefully we can win the 10th title.”
Real have been waiting 12 years for that tenth European Cup The search for La Decima, as it is known locally, has seen the club spend over a billion euros ($1.37 billion) in player transfers alone to recreate the night when Zinedine Zidane’s sensational volley handed them a ninth European crown against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow.
“I remember watching it. It was in Scotland at Hampden Park. It was a great moment for Real Madrid and hopefully we can repeat that,” adds Bale.
“I don’t think we feel the pressure, or at least any added pressure. There is obviously pressure on anyone for a Champions League final, for any player and any team, but we are all very excited to have the opportunity and hopefully we can put a great performance in on Saturday and lift the trophy.
“I don’t think it is an obsession. If you ask any player in world football it is a dream to win the Champions League and that comes with its own pressure for ourselves, but one we can live with and conquer.”
Bale has already written himself into the history of the club with a stunning winning goal in a final as his 50-yard dash and finish won the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona last month.
But he insists it doesn’t matter if it is he, World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, or anyone else who scores the winner as long as the famous trophy with the big ears is decorated with white ribbons come full-time on Saturday.
“I hope I can score the winner again because that means we will win.
“It is going to be a difficult game, we know Atletico are in a good moment this season and for us, no matter who scores the winner, we are going to be very happy and that is what we are targeting.
“Cristiano is a fantastic player. I can’t say much more because he is so great. He has proved it season in, season out what a world class player he is and it is obviously an honour and a privilege to play with him. Hopefully we can put together one last game and win this title.”