VILLARREAL, SPAIN – It took him all summer to finalize his world record €101 million move from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid , but Gareth Bale needed just 38 minutes to score a goal for his new side, during Saturday night's super entertaining 2-2 La Liga draw at Villarreal .
Bale's close range finish means he joins fellow galacticos David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldo Luís Nazario in scoring on his Blancos debut, but Villarreal's excellent showing saw the new man also follow Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo in not winning his first game in the famous all white strip.
The tidy 25,000 seater Estadio El Madrigal on Spain's Mediterranean coast had not seen a media event like this since the club surprisingly reached the Champions League semifinals almost a decade ago, but the newly-promoted team were the better side for long periods against Carlo Ancelotti's still evolving Madrid side.
Long before Bale finally signed for Madrid, his every move had been followed by the Spanish media; this week we were brought a late night arrival via private jet at his Madrid hotel and then iconic first handshake with new teammate Cristiano Ronaldo on Wednesday; his presentation of a new Madrid third strip launch on Thursday; and Friday's meeting with Blancos club legend Alfredo di Stefano as both sat for Madrid's official 2013-14 squad photo.
Throughout Bale has been perfect, dealing smoothly with his media and commercial obligations and fitting in well immediately on the training ground -- with cameras capturing his new teammates' gleeful reaction to a training ground nutmeg on Ronaldo on Friday morning. The new arrival has also shown deep respect for those new colleagues -- including Cristiano Ronaldo -- and also an awareness of the history of the club he was joining. An admission this week that "La Decima" were among the first words of Spanish he had learned was warmly received by fans and pundits eagerly hoping this season finally brings their long awaited tenth European Cup title.
Bale found things trickier once he stepped onto the pitch on Saturday night. With Madrid's defense rocky early, goalkeeper Diego Lopez had already made two superb saves before home midfielder Cani profited from still more chaotic defending to put his side ahead.
The equalizer came against the run of play, when visiting right back Dani Carvajal got forward and crossed to where Bale -- who had drifted inside from his new right-wing position -- was ahead of his defender Mario to poke the ball home from four yards. The goal energized the scorer, who had been peripheral and nervous before, but now looked comfortable. He was soon nutmegging Mario as the confidence flowed in the minutes towards halftime.
"The goal was very good for him," Ancelotti said afterwards. "It was a difficult game for everyone, but he played well and showed a good attitude."
The Welsh winger then began the second period with a 25 yarder which whistled just over, bringing a loud reaction from the crowd. There was also a typical lung-bursting 50 yard run down his flank, before Ancelotti -- who had said at training on Friday that Bale's fitness was "not yet 100%" following his disrupted preseason -- decided that was enough for now and subbed GB11 for Angel di Maria.
Just two minutes later, CR7 showed he was not yet ready to leave the stage, putting his team ahead by leading a typical flying counter-attack, and then getting slightly lucky as a ricochet bounced off his shins and past stranded goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo. Almost as quickly, Villarreal were level. With Lopez making yet another super stop against his old team, Mexican winger Giovani dos Santos knocked in the Yellow Submarine's second goal. Both sides then had chances for a third, with Ronaldo coming close to winning it, and Lopez twice more saving his team.
Amid all the excitement it was worth recalling what a changed Madrid side this is. Of Saturday's starting XI, only Pepe, Ramos and Ronaldo were guaranteed starters 12 months ago. Ancelotti has a new team which has still to gel together. Bale is part of that evolution, as are young Spanish midfielders Isco and Asier Illarramendi, who looked shaky on what was also his Madrid debut.
Ronaldo showed too that he's not going anywhere soon, although he and Bale rarely, if ever, linked up.
"It was the first time they played together," said Ancelotti when asked about the pair's relationship, suggesting the two needed a bit more time to get to know each other.
As the fans flowed out of Madrigal, the feeling was that the new galactico had gotten his Madrid career off to a flying start with a debut goal and plenty of effort. Still, Ancelotti will need time to blend his new stars together and get his team playing how he wants before a fair assestment can be reached this season.