When Real Madrid brushed Liverpool aside in the Champions League final, Cristiano Ronaldo was nowhere to be seen as Gareth Bale led the charge – little did the world know that this was a sign of things to come.
That 3-1 win brought an incredible era to an end at Los Blancos, as Zinedine Zidane stepped down as coach less than a week after guiding the club to a third successive Champions League title.
It proved to be Ronaldo's final match in a Madrid shirt as well, with the Ballon d'Or holder securing a shock €112million move to Juventus last month, bringing a nine-year association with the club to an end.
Ronaldo's presence had been vital in Madrid's previous two Champions League successes. He scored the winning penalty in the 2015-16 shootout and netted twice a year later in the 4-1 hammering of the club he now represents.
Yet he was peripheral, at best, against Liverpool in May and the match was still level just past the hour.
Within three minutes, the Wales international scored one of the great Champions League goals, leaving 61,000 people in Kiev's NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium – and many millions more watching on television around the world – astonished with a remarkable overhead kick.
A Loris Karius howler late on saw Bale get a second from long range, but it was his first that provided the timely reminder of his world class ability – taking to the air and pulling the trigger all in one devastatingly smooth action.
Having seen both Zidane and Ronaldo depart since, Bale's cameo now looks almost poetic considering his strong post-Champions League hint that he was angling for a move.
It is no secret Zidane and Bale had a somewhat rocky relationship behind the scenes, mostly because the coach made a habit of benching the Welshman in big matches – the Champions League final being a prime example.
On top of that, Bale was always considered second to Ronaldo, but in Kiev he rose – literally and figuratively – above the ceiling Zidane's selection choices set for him and stamped his authority when even Madrid's Portuguese talisman could not.
Bale has, of course, endured numerous fitness problems in the last three seasons, but that has not stopped him managing to score 42 goals in 68 LaLiga matches, despite not being entirely trusted by Zidane.
He also boasted a better conversion rate across all competitions than his former team-mate last term, with Ronaldo converting 15.66 per cent of his chances, compared to Bale's record of 21 percent.
Such figures in a difficult period would only bring reverence and adulation at any other club in Europe. Yet, at the Santiago Bernabeu, Bale has even been subjected to jeers by Madrid fans.
But with Zidane gone and Ronaldo's void not filled by another Florentino Perez vanity signing, like it or not fans will be seeing a lot more of Bale this term, with his form in pre-season giving every indication he is set to step up.
"I'm not going to talk about past seasons," new coach Julen Lopetegui said of Bale's previous struggles on Monday.
"The Bale we have now is committed, content, wanting to have a great season. He is training very well, happy, and we are so happy with him. This has only just begun."
Actually, this began on May 26 when Bale finally emerged after five years in Ronaldo's shadow, and now he is set to become Madrid's shining light.
25 de septiembre 2018
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