CARDIFF (AFP) – Real Madrid star Gareth Bale believes that he can reach even greater heights in the 2014-15 campaign after completing his first full pre-season with the club.
The Welsh forward took time to find his feet in the Spanish capital after a protracted transfer from Tottenham Hotspur costing around 100 million euros ($134 million) a year ago, but he finished his maiden campaign by engraving his name in Madrid folklore.
After scoring a memorable winner against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final, he headed home the decisive second goal in Madrid’s 4-1 extra-time win over city rivals Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final.
The goal in Lisbon means that the former Southampton youngster will forever be associated with Madrid’s historic 10th European Cup success, but he feels that there is even more to come from him this season.
“Obviously it’s a lot easier having a pre-season under your belt, rather than sitting at home waiting for a transfer to go through,” he said ahead of Madrid’s meeting with Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup on Tuesday.
“I’m in much better shape this season and I feel I can start the season at a better tempo. I’m in great shape.”
Bale’s comments were echoed by coach Carlo Ancelotti, who will be able to ally the Welshman with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and superstar signings James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos this season.
“Gareth last year had a fantastic season, because he started without a pre-season and to be in condition it took time,” said the Italian, who said Bale was “one of the best players in the world”.
“This season is different: he knows the atmosphere at Real Madrid, he knows his team-mates, he knows the club.
“I’m sure he’ll be better this season, because his pre-season was really good. He’s in perfect condition physically, mentally. I think he’ll do better.”
– Emery wary of Bale –
Tuesday’s game in Cardiff will be a homecoming for Bale, who was born and raised in the city and went to school just four miles (6.4 kilometres) from match venue the Cardiff City Stadium.
While he has described his return as a “dream come true”, he said that playing in front of a home crowd did not bring with it any added pressure.
“It’s obviously great to be back home, but the most important thing is for us to win the game and be prepared,” said the 25-year-old.
“It’s a title we obviously want to win. We need to focus on that, not so much on me playing in my home town, and hopefully win a trophy.
“I don’t feel the pressure of being back home. It’s another trophy we want to win, so I have to put 110 percent in and do my best.”
Tuesday’s opponents Sevilla learnt about Bale’s devastating ability at first-hand last season when he scored twice and supplied two assists against them during a crushing 7-3 win for Madrid at the Bernabeu in October.
“We unfortunately got to know him in the first match he played (against Sevilla) — Real Madrid 7-3 Sevilla,” said Sevilla coach Unai Emery.
“It was a beautiful game for the spectators, but a very ugly game for Sevilla. And Gareth Bale was the real star of that match.
“With a player of that calibre, if he’s on your side, you can rest easy. But if he’s against you, you have to double, triple or even quadruple the work you do before the game to prepare.”