This is the first time
‘Angry. Quite angry, to be honest,’ he says, describing his mind-set when
He’d scored four goals in three games heading into Kiev’s Olympic Stadium — including one against Villarreal a week earlier. He’d been on the field for three minutes in the Ukrainian capital before he continued the sequence.
This is the first time Gareth Bale has told the story of his stunning Champions League final goal
Bale produced an outrageous overhead kick to help Real Madrid secure victory in Kiev
What transpired, four minutes beyond the hour mark, required more than a capacity to shut out the residual emotion that sports psychologists talk about. Bale also had to shut the door on doubt, because, as he reveals in this conversation, he had never before scored a goal with an overhead kick.
To the ordinary player, anxiety would enter the equation before a global audience of 300million, though what he describes sounds much like a still, small calm in his mind as Marcelo’s cross came in.
He describes a subliminal awareness of James Milner and Virgil van Dijk, the Liverpool players drifting through his peripheral vision, though that made things less complicated by removing alternatives.
‘You could opt to take the ball down and do something then,’ he says. ‘But you know you are in a situation where if you’re going to get closed down you have to try something.
‘You certainly don’t really think about looking stupid. If you don’t try things, things never happen. If you have time to think about it, it doesn’t come off. It’s when you have to make those reaction decisions that you normally tend to get the best results…’
So he took a leap of faith, looping his boot under the ball to send it on its arc into the net. He’d been filmed doing this at a Wales training camp three years earlier, but Austria’s Heinz Linder was one of a number of goalkeepers to keep such a Bale effort out, in a World Cup qualifier in September 2017.
Bale has revealed he was angry at Zinedine Zidane’s decision to leave him on the bench
Forward describes a subliminal awareness of James Milner and Virgil van Dijk before his goal
‘I knew exactly where the ball went and you can see in the video my head turns to look exactly where the ball is going,’ Bale says. ‘As soon as I hit it I knew it was good.’ The fall to the turf was light. ‘No, you don’t feel it!’
And then, for the moment the ball takes to reach the net, there was just stillness. ‘It was quite a weird silence for a split second. Then everything erupted. I remember Marcelo and Toni Kroos running because I could see them coming and then everyone piled on.
‘Better than Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal against Juventus?’ This question is put to Bale by nine-year-old Huddersfield schoolgirl Charlotte McLellan as she grills him in an interview to be released by BT Sport this week. Bale’s inquisitor is also the star of a new BT Sport advert.
Bale finds a diplomatic answer about the merits of Ronaldo’s quarter-final goal: ‘It’s not for me to say!’
He is mystified as to why the goal did not feature in a UEFA poll of the top 10 Champions League goals of the season. ‘I don’t know how it wasn’t on that list!’ he says. ‘I want to know who is on the panel because they want to be sacked.’
The scissor kick was not the end of things in Kiev, of course. There was the 83rd-minute strike which ended Liverpool’s night and Loris Karius’s career at Liverpool, though the abuse the German took belied a level of difficulty for him that some did not appreciate, Bale thinks.
Bale was mystified that the goal did not feature in a UEFA poll of the top 10 strikes of the year
Bale was speaking exclusively to Sportsmail’s Ian Herbert during Wales’ international break
‘I always try to put a bit of wobble on the ball,’ he points out. ‘It’s the same with free-kicks. You try to make it more difficult because if it doesn’t go in the corner I always give them a problem if it’s right down their throat.’
He didn’t see much of the Liverpool team that night but he did console Karius. ‘I just said, “Keep your head up”, he relates. ‘Mistakes happen. It’s just unfortunate it’s in a final. Yes, I suppose it’s not quite as bad as it looked but I suppose he should save it.’
That residual anger had long gone by the end, though Bale did insist later that night that he needed to be ‘playing week-in, week-out’ and hinted he was ready to leave if he had to. But within five days, Zidane had resigned as Real coach and a further six weeks later Ronaldo was off to Juventus.
Bale’s world is no less intense as he embarks on the new Champions League campaign at home to Roma on Wednesday. As we talk, the 29-year-old is twice called out by the Wales coaching team and breaks off to join Ryan Giggs and the squad. He insists on returning for a third attempt to talk.
Yet he wears the demeanour of an individual reborn under a manager, Julen Lopetegui, who has restored him to the Real starting XI from which Zidane unfathomably excluded him.
It is a side no longer subservient to the giant presence of Ronaldo. Bale has scored in the side’s three La Liga games this season, making it nine in eight games in a run extending back to the end of last season.
Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Madrid has let the light flood in on those who were under his shadow
Charlotte McLellan (left) takes on the Real Madrid and Wales icon in an advert for BT Sport
You sense Ronaldo’s departure has let the light flood in on those — including Bale — who were operating under his monumental shadow. ‘Obviously it’s going to be a little different from having such a big player there,’ Bale says. ‘It’s maybe a bit more relaxed, yes. I suppose there is more of a team, more working as one unit rather than one player.’
Lopetegui’s English makes communication easy, in a way that it was not with Zidane, who does not speak the language.
‘Obviously it helps,’ Bale says. ‘In Spanish I can talk (to a manager) but maybe not go into that amount of detail with them that I would need to.’ Bale passes on the question of whether he fundamentally considers Lopetegui a better manager than Zidane. ‘I’m not sure I want to answer that.’
It’s five years since he left the Premier League, the landscape of which has changed beyond recognition in that time. Sir Alex Ferguson, Brendan Rodgers and Tim Sherwood were among the managerial personnel back then.
There’s part of him that would like to test himself in that environment again. ‘You can say yes and no,’ he says, when asked if he’d like to be back here one day.
It is five years since Bale left Tottenham but he insists he is enjoying playing for such a big club
‘You always want to come back and play in your home league and a part of you will always miss home. But I’m enjoying playing for the biggest club in the world and winning trophies.’
The sentiment is understandable, given the part his home city played in his development. He recalls how he and Wales rugby union’s Sam Warburton were in the same class at the Cardiff secondary, Whitchurch High School, where games teachers Sam Williams and Gwyn Morris were behind a prodigious output of talent which also included cycling’s Geraint Thomas.
‘They tried to get me to play rugby now and again, but I didn’t want to!’ he grins. ‘Too physical for me! I always wanted to be the kicker or on the wing so I stayed away from the tackles. But Sam and I played football together. He and his twin brother Ben were our centre backs!
‘The teachers were always looking at what we could do to help ourselves; how to get the best out of our performance.’ That much was evident on a football field in Kiev. ‘We can be even better again,’ he says of the team who go in search of a fourth consecutive Champions League title this week. ‘Another start and another challenge. We’re ready for it.’