It's Bale's time to shine, says Neil Humphreys
Time for Bale to escape Ronaldo's shadow and bask in the limelight
REAL MADRID v ATLETICO MADRID
(Tomorrow, 2.40am, Singtel TV Ch 112 & StarHub TV Ch 212)
Cristiano Ronaldo gave Gareth Bale a compliment this week, sort of.
The Real Madrid overlord recalled his son teasing him, with the boy claiming that the Welshman was a faster footballer.
Ronaldo laughed off his son's accusation, before offering a paternal reminder.
No one is faster than Ronaldo.
Even in jest, he had to underline his omnipotence. Even a benign joke about Bale ends up being about Ronaldo.
For Bale's three uneven years at Real, it's always been about Ronaldo.
He remains the world's most expensive shadow in search of sunlight.
At the San Siro tomorrow morning (Singapore time), the Champions League Final could finally reveal a crack in the clouds.
Reputations are hard to shake and the perception remains that Bale can be a talismanic presence in finals, but Ronaldo is the man for all seasons.
Three goals in three different finals in 2014 - the classic Copa del Rey finish to go with decisive efforts in the Champions League and the Fifa Club World Cup - supposedly reveal a flaky character, compared to Ronaldo's formidable consistency.
Injury-prone and erratic, Bale has often been portrayed as a delicate flower blowing in the Bernabeu breeze, whereas the Portuguese is built of teak with a tan to match.
In England, Tottenham served Bale. In Spain, Bale served Ronaldo, with the statistics highlighting a subservient role that threatened to crush his spirit.
In his final season at Spurs, Bale netted 21 times. In his first season at Real, the tally dropped to 15, but his assists trebled from four to 12. Ronaldo was, of course, the major beneficiary of those assists.
Real had shelled out £86 million ($174m) for a Welsh water boy.
By early 2015, Bale was leaving Spain every week. English clubs were linked to the allegedly marginalised figure craving self-respect and a more appreciative club, culture and national media.
But Bale refused to live up to his surname. He knuckled down, refusing to succumb to Ronaldo's autocracy.
Former coach Rafa Benitez saw not only a spirited professional, but also a potential ally in the eternal power struggles within the dressing room.
To Ronaldo's consternation, Bale had the backing of both the new manager and his loyal benefactor, Real president Florentino Perez.
They didn't see a wingman to the main attraction, but a leading man, a main man, a future Ballon d'Or winner and perhaps the shiniest Galactico. They saw life after Ronaldo.
Bale was handed the keys to the treasure chest he had long coveted, that roaming, independent role behind the strikers.
He flourished in his new-found freedom as the ego crash landed beside him, seemingly spending more time supporting his documentary film than his teammates.
When Benitez, Bale's biggest supporter, was sacked, there was a sense of normal service being resumed with Zinedine Zidane stepping into the dugout. It was a promotion from within and a return to the status quo.
Bale had to make a statement.
In Zidane's first match in charge, Bale smashed in a hat-trick against Deportivo La Coruna. It was some statement. The Welshman was no longer willing to be sidelined or overlooked in favour of the bronzed god beside him.
But he needs the Champions League final to confirm his resurrection. Bale's rise requires Atletico Madrid's fall.
The 26-year-old's resurgence this season still comes with a stubborn caveat.
His 19-goal mark is his best return yet in Spain, but he started just 21 times. Bale missed 13 league games, making a viable case that his absence cost Real the title.
Their win percentage rose to 76.2 per cent when he started and they scored more goals when he featured.
As Bale nears a full decade in top-flight football, the idea of a brittle-boned talent hamstrung by his own fragility just about persists.
So does the tendency to shrink in the limelight. In 10 Champions League games and fixtures against Barcelona or Atletico this season, Bale hasn't scored. Not once.
In mind and body, Ronaldo retains the advantage. He's a sculpted, goal-scoring muscle of his own creation. Bale looks lightweight in comparison.
Only a commanding performance against Atletico tomorrow morning can change that.
For his form and tenacity alone, Bale deserves to dominate in the final.
As Real laboured in the shadow of Barcelona, Bale toiled beside an illustrious giant. Now both have a chance to break out and bask in the San Siro spotlight.
"He is an emotional player on the pitch, he can throw his arms up now and then but that is how he is. He works hard for the teams and scores goals, which is important - but as I said, we have never had a problem."
- Gareth Bale on Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo obsessed with win, not record
Cristiano Ronaldo insists personal goals will be put to one side as Real Madrid seek to embellish their incredible European record with victory over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League Final tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Ronaldo, a three-time World Player of the Year, has never scored a goal at the San Siro, but has the chance to match and surpass his own record of scoring 17 Champions League goals in a season.
Yet, two years after Real defender Sergio Ramos levelled at the death to inspire a stunning, extra-time comeback and secure a 10th triumph in Lisbon, the Portuguese superstar insists winning an 11th crown is far more important than who hits the net at the San Siro.
"It would be nice to equal or even pass the (scoring) record, but I am not obsessed with that because the most important thing is to win," Ronaldo said when asked about adding to his 16-goal tally in the competition this season.
Victory would see Real embellish their reputation as the most successful club in Europe, having won the inaugural edition, the European Champions Clubs' Cup, in 1956.
Atletico's achievements may pale in comparison, but the threat from Diego Simeone's men, who have restricted Real to only one win in their past 10 meetings since the 2014 final, is real.
Before winning two Europa League titles in 2010 and 2012, the Rojiblancos' last continental trophy was the now defunct European Cup Winners' Cup in 1962.
Yet, only two years after Lisbon, Simeone's men are back, having stunned Barcelona in the quarter-finals, and outsted Bayern Munich on away goals in the semi-finals.
Real fans may have the history, but Zinedine Zidane's men have beaten Atletico only once in 10 meetings since their 4-1 victory in Lisbon two years ago.
Whoever wins, says Ronaldo, will earn the local bragging rights.
"We will see who is the best.
"I am positive. I think Real are better than Atletico, but we have to show it on the pitch," said the 31-year-old Portuguese. - AFP.
Keys adds to final glitz
American R&B star Alicia Keys will make history by becoming the first artiste to sing live at a Champions League final opening ceremony that promises unprecedented glitz and glamour tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
An estimated global audience of 180 million people from over 220 countries will watch the Spanish Liga giants Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid lock horns in the final for the second time in three years.
Unlike the opening or closing ceremonies of the Olympics, the Champions League final has never featured a live performance.
Retired AC Milan and Inter Milan legends Franco Baresi and Javier Zanetti will carry the Champions League trophy out on to the centre of the pitch with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.
The nine-minute show will end with spectacular fireworks and Bocelli singing the Champions League anthem.