There are 19 golf courses in Los Angeles and its immediate surrounding area. That’s equivalent to 342 holes. At the time of writing, Gareth Bale has played just 346 minutes of MLS football since signing for LAFC in July. The two things are probably not connected, but we’re agonisingly close to a lovely piece of symmetry there.
The Welsh icon, now 33, left Real Madrid this summer for the bright lights of Hollywood in the hope of resurrecting a career that has, in recent years, been characterised more notably by a general malaise and a love for the links than it has by any kind of consistent footballing output. A regular Unhappy Gilmore, Bale ricocheted between disdain and relative obscurity in the Spanish capital with a clockwork somberness towards the end of stay. In truth, it has been hard not to feel quite sorry for him at certain points.
Ordinarily, a move to LA would herald the final throes of a wheezing death rattle in a career of Bale’s ilk. Rarely do players return from the MLS with their reputation enhanced. But in the Welshman’s case, there appears to have been a quiet optimism, at least among his most ardent advocates, that any minutes were good minutes - especially as he prepares to lead his country into a first World Cup since 1958.
In the spiritual home of the outlandish crossover episode, however, the forward has been little more than an awkwardly-shoehorned cameo. In terms of narrative substance, he has offered just two goals in 12 appearances - and 10 of those outings have been from the bench. The yield, thus far, has not come anywhere near to justifying the hype. We’re not a million miles away from Chris Pratt’s Mario voice here.
On a personal level, that probably bothers Bale quite significantly. (The lack of minutes, I mean. Still no official confirmation regarding his stance on Pratt’s work in the booth.) Match fitness continues to be an issue for the talismanic attacker, although he insists that there is a “plan” in place that should build up his durability “for the last important part of the season” and leave him “in great shape for the World Cup”. Whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen, but however concerned he may be, there’s no doubting that Wales will be doubly so. The Dragons are not a one-man team, but they’re about as close as a side can realistically get.
The ex-Tottenham star is already his country’s all-time record goal-scorer, and in the five defeats that Rob Paige’s men have suffered since the start of the year, he has played 20 minutes or less in four of them. Without Bale, Wales are seriously lacking in anybody capable of taking up his mantle. Aaron Ramsey would probably be next on any kind of list, but even then, the midfielder looks increasingly like a spent force at the very highest level.
All of this is to say that Wales must have Bale at something approaching his best if they are to harbour any hope of thriving in Qatar. Whether he can gather himself enough to gain the minutes, fitness, and momentum he needs isn’t overly clear, but one thing certainly is; the avid golfer has a hefty old bunker to dig himself out of.
Original story appeared on appeared on 3 Added Minutes - a new football site that goes beyond the 90 minutes of football reporting.