The Gareth Bale transfer saga, which saw the then-24-year-old winger move from Barclays Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur to Spanish La Liga powerhouse Real Madrid, was undoubtedly the leading drama of the 2013 summer in world football.
But it appears that drama follows Bale wherever he goes, because his team's uninspiring performances this season, topped by last Sunday's El Clasico defeat to hated Barcelona — a game in which Bale had the worst passing accuracy percentage of any player on either side — has now made the Welshman possibly the least popular man in the Spanish capital.
When after two months of sulking and complaining that Tottenham was spoiling his "boyhood dream" of playing for Real Madrid — even though Bale had signed a new four-year contract to stay with Spurs through 2016 only a year earlier — he finally completed the move, he declared again, "I can honestly say, this is my dream come true."
But the dream has apparently gone bad, with reports that Bale now suffers from "anxiety" and is "downcast" at Real Madrid — perhaps with good reason, as the team's fans have made him the prime target of their wrath.
Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy said in 2013 that it was "with great reluctance" that he agreed to sell Bale — albeit for a record transfer fee of £86 million, or $128 million — and only did so because Bale himself made it clear that he would not "be sufficiently committed" to Spurs in the 2013/14 season.
Perhaps brazenly shooting his way out of town should have been a tip-off to Florentino Perez, that maybe, just maybe Bale's character was not a match for his often spectacular skills.
But the Real Madrid President was unfazed. On top of the all-time record transfer fee, he showered Gareth Bale with a salary reported at £300,000 per week — which translates to about $23 million per year, immediately making Bale, along with teammate Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi, one of the three highest-paid footballers in the world.
That exclusive club grew by one member when Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney inked a similar deal in February of 2014.
But Bale, while his performance at Real has been solid, perhaps even stellar by the standards of an average footballer, has not come close to fulfilling the promises those financial figures — and the media hype surrounding the winger's move — would seem to demand.
Now Real's fans, always somewhat skeptical of Bale to begin with, have turned with a vengeance on the former Tottenham superstar.
Not only did a gang of angry supporters attack Bale's car, with him in it, following the El Clasico humiliation Sunday, not only did a leading Madrid newspaper slam him as "lazy" and refuse to even assign him a player rating after the game — as if he had not appeared in the game at all — but a new poll this week shows nearly 70 percent of Real Madrid fans demanding that Gareth Bale be dropped from the team's starting lineup.
Bale will enjoy a brief respite this week as he leaves Madrid behind to join his Wales national side as they travel to Israel for a European Championship qualifier. But when he returns, Gareth Bale will face hard decisions about his future. Will he stick it out in Madrid, hoping his performance improves — or does he chase his next "boyhood dream" at Manchester United, or somewhere else?
[Images: Alex Grimm/Alex Caparros/Getty Images]