The stars have aligned for Gareth Bale to be Real Madrid's premier Galactico 2 years ago

The stars have aligned for Gareth Bale to be Real Madrid's premier Galactico

It's been a funny old summer for Gareth Bale - one that started on a substitutes' bench in Kiev

Though he only featured for the final half-hour against Liverpool that night, Bale left the Ukrainian capital's Olympic Stadium in the small hours having made a match-winning contribution. His two goals - both memorable for entirely different reasons - swung what had been a largely even contest in favour of Real Madrid, helping them to a 13th European Cup.

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This was his finest hour in a Real shirt, yet it wasn't enough to silence speculation that it might have been his last.

Returning from injury, Bale had scored five goals in the five games leading up to the Liverpool match, only for Zinedine Zidane to decide against rewarding him with a starting berth for the final. The pair, at least according to reports, didn't see eye to eye, so much so that the Welshman was open to a return to the Premier League in order to guarantee more minutes on the pitch.

Bale didn't exactly do much to kill off such talk, either. In the lull between the full-time celebrations and the trophy presentation in Kiev, he explained in an on-field interview that uncertainty over playing time might see him consider a move away.

As it went, these comments (like so many other things he's done since moving to the Bernabeu five years ago) were drowned out by Cristiano Ronaldo, who followed up by dropping his own not-so-subtle hint about his future.

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Nearly three months on from that night in Kiev, Real will take on city rivals Atletico Madrid for the European Super Cup in Estonia, their first competitive match of the new season.

The landscape has changed considerably for both the club and Bale. Julen Lopetegui is now in charge following Zidane's resignation and Ronaldo, though many assumed he was angling for an(other) improved contract with the European champions, has left for Juventus.

With Real's rumoured moves for Kylian Mbappe and Neymar falling by the wayside, these circumstances have presented Bale with an opening that few, himself included, would have envisaged at the end of May. He now has the chance to be the focal point in Real's attack, their star attraction.

His performances during Real's pre-season tour of the United States have only added to this growing sense of opportunity. Along with Marco Asensio - another man the club will expect to shoulder some of the attacking responsibility following Ronaldo's departure - Bale finished as top scorer, finding the net three times.

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His last outing against Roma in New York saw him lay on an impressive assist for Asensio before adding what proved to be the decisive goal of the game.

Bale's injury record is the only threat to his ascension in the new, Ronaldo-less era in Madrid. Although he's performed admirably as the Ballon d'Or winner's understudy since arriving in Spain, he has also missed 43 games in the last two seasons. Should he overcome these fitness concerns, it seems everything else is in place for him to be the become their most important player, especially given the backing he's received from his new manager.

"We've found Bale really motivated, a top professional who has trained with the motivation of a youngster," Lopetegui told reporters on Tuesday. "We're a team, the team is the main part. What he can bring to the team is his ability and mentality and we're convinced he'll have a great season."

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Although his future seemed far from certain at the start of the summer, the stars have aligned for Bale to become Real's premier Galactico as the new campaign begins. All eyes are on Tallinn to see how the new chapter starts.