SOCCER - A.Klagenfurt vs Southampton, test match KLAGENFURT,AUSTRIA,18.JUL.22 - SOCCER - ADMIRAL Bundesliga, Premier League, SK Austria Klagenfurt vs FC Southampton, test match. Image shows a ball. PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxAUTxSUIxSWE GEPAxpictures/xFlorianxMori

Gareth Bale, I think we can all agree, is a stupendously gifted dribbler. Ask a Welsh fan and they might positively froth at the mouth at his mere mention. Behind Spursy tears, Tottenham supporters will go all mushy at thoughts of his spellbinding San Siro slalom that ended in typical Spurs fashion.

When he was picked up by Southampton’s extensive southern scouting network at the age of eight, he was a weedy, Prince Charles-eared wafer that probably actually did blow away a few times when Gordon Strachan arrived. Then off he was whisked to the bright lights of London. Yes, I know, a Saints youngster who DIDN’T go to Liverpool. That’s right kids, it wasn’t always that way.

It seems a lifetime ago when his bloody irritating quiff danced past opponents from his original full-back position. It was a kind of opposite image to me now; shirts hung off his non-existent flab with gallons of space unfilled. In various guises, he has in fact played all the way down the left flank and across the front line in his career.

You may have noticed his name in the news recently after he refused to have dinner at 10pm with his teammates. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Iberian lifestyles will know that is if anything a slightly early stage of the evening to dine. I guess it should come as no surprise then that Gaz was not prepared for it.

I’ve watched his career at Real Madrid with a few different emotions to be honest. Fascination at a high-profile British player at a major foreign club; disappointment at the typical madridista impatience at him not being a perma-tanned Portuguese adonis; admiration at his adaptation to a challenging atmosphere and culture change.

Hang on though; has he? Snippets of carefully judged anti-Bale propaganda have been released into the press in recent weeks. First Marcelo criticised him for still not having learned Spanish after six years. Then Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea’s predecessor to their 24-year-old brat Kepa, labelled him the golfer. What’s that Thibaut, a footballer playing a lot of golf?? Christ, next thing we know it they’ll be opening pubs or getting fast-tracked into management jobs they’re barely qualified for!

There are two layers to my anger this week. Yes that’s right; in the words of Shrek, I’m like an onion, NOT a cake. Layers, innit? First point of order – Spanish. I studied it at school alongside French, before taking a stab at Italian at university, while of course now I live in Russia. I’m not an expert, but Spanish really is the easiest language to learn. I’m guessing Bale isn’t short of a euro or two for lessons, so quite how he hasn’t learned it is just ridiculous.

I’ll come right out with it: I’m a glaring hypocrite. Nine years in Siberia, and I still can’t converse fluently. On the other hand, unlike Jug Ears, I don’t spend all day working in the local language. Nor for that matter have I had hours every day of free time. Pull your bloody finger out and cram a few lessons in you grinning buffoon.

We’ve seen a fair bit of disobedience to team orders recently. Not one to be left out, Bale has joined in by joining Toni Kroos in missing a team dinner. Yes, curling up in bed with Homes Under the Hammer on illegal streams may be preferable to spending time in Sergio Ramos’ company, but it’s your bloody job Gareth!

When you have 80,000 Real fans whistling your every move, would it really be that hard to at least make it look like you care? Only a complete idiot would expect anything other than even further abuse for confirming their status as the outsider.

At this point, we ought to remember how he got to this stage in the first place. No longer a flaky wisp of a boy, he grafted to build his body up physically and adapted to a more complete forward position. Living in Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow is not most people’s idea of fun, but he did that without too much public grumbling. Dealing with one of the most fickle fan bases in Europe and having the strength of character to stick it out deserves some credit too.

What really stinks is how the club have become seemingly complicit in allowing the situation to fester until, as usual, the player’s reputation is muddied to such an extent that his departure becomes unavoidable. Speculative I know, but do you really think all their players are not just Florentino Perez puppets? Those comments to the press were hardly condemned or controlled.

So criticise Bale – I did – but remember he has outlasted many luminaries before him. He may be the architect of his own downfall, but the structure around him is arguably far worse.