Gareth Bale’s parents, Frank and Debbie, probably never dreamt their only son would become the world’s most expensive footballer, and they certainly wouldn’t have imagined they’d be playing a central role in a scene that could have come straight out of a comedy spin-off: Gavin And Stacey Go To Madrid.
There were many surreal moments during Real Madrid’s ceremonial unveiling yesterday of 24-year-old Bale, the former Tottenham Hotspur winger whose world-record fee eclipsed even that paid four years ago for his brilliant new teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo.
But his family’s self-conscious ascent to a purpose-built stage in front of an over-excited crowd of 40,000 at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, where they smiled sheepishly for a huge battery of cameras, was the most gloriously unlikely of them all.
Especially as the splendidly motley Bale family occupied the space just vacated by the Spanish club’s sleek and pampered multi-millionaire directors.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez stayed where he was though.
The flamboyant construction billionaire manifestly tried to look as if Frank Bale, a former school caretaker, was his new best friend. It would have been a priceless spectacle, except of course that the proceedings came with a price very firmly attached: £86 million.
Even by Real Madrid’s extravagant — and in Spain’s current economic climate, somewhat grotesque — standards, that is a great deal of money to pay for one man.
When asked if he was worth it, Bale sidestepped the issue as neatly as he ever has an opponent, insisting charmingly and disingenuously at a press conference that to play for Real Madrid would feel like a dream fulfilled – ‘whether for a penny or whatever it was’.
The conference yielded another situation mum Debbie could hardly have anticipated. As she listened to her son explain how he hopes to justify his pay of £256,000 a week, she was brandishing a toy Thomas The Tank Engine.
But then, like all good Cardiff matriarchs, she was simply prioritising the needs of the youngest members of the family, starting with Gareth’s baby daughter, Alba.
The Bales, including Gareth’s thrilled grandfather Dennis, sat in the front row, across the aisle from unsmiling club executives in dark suits. The spectacle evoked a wedding at which the groom’s family seem comically incompatible with the bride’s.
The man of the moment, however, should fit in perfectly with Madrid’s other gilded footballers. He even had a new haircut with carefully sculpted sideburns and facial hair.
His former manager at Spurs, Harry Redknapp, once said that if Bale paid ‘less attention to his barnet’ he might stand a chance of becoming a ‘half-decent’ footballer.
Well, Harry was wrong. Bale has turned into one of the world’s finest footballers while paying ever more attention to his ‘barnet’, which will stand him in good stead in a city where everything a Real Madrid player does is news, up to and including the way he styles his hair — and certainly if he had an operation to pin back his sticking-out ears.
Bale’s girlfriend Emma, the childhood sweetheart to whom he dedicates each goal by making a heart shape with his hands, also seems to have had a makeover in readiness for the relentlessly intense scrutiny of the ‘Madridistas’.
In Britain she has stayed out of the limelight, and has been described as ‘homely’. Not unlike Gavin’s Stacey — indeed the couple supposedly christened themselves Gavin and Stacey after the long-distance TV couple because Emma spends more time in Wales than in Bale’s mansion in Chigwell, Essex.
But yesterday, looking very groomed and pretty, she might have been auditioning for a Spanish edition of Footballers’ Wives.