Gareth Bale’s arrival in Los Angeles as the newest and second oldest member of LAFC has been described as a shock to those who forgot that the club signed 37-year-old Giorgio Chiellini two weeks ago. Chiellini, though, is coming for the usual reasons anyone comes to the United States to play soccer—the depressurized money—while Bale comes for an additional reason: To get into full fitness for the Hell World Cup in November.
Put it this way. It isn’t for the greater glory of LAFC in its long (aka, five years) and obsessive (aka, one conference final and two first-round defeats) hunt for the elegantly named MLS Cup. It’s a business arrangement, as most of these contracts are among the mid-30s-and-above set.
It is also the fruition of Bale’s long-desired escape from Real Madrid, where he was essentially reviled into disuse for the crime of not being the Bale who consistently showed his worth at Tottenham. Indeed, as recently as late March, he was saluted with a chain-mailed backhand from veteran Spanish columnist, poet, and essayist Manuel Julia after the team’s 4-0 crushing by Barcelona, the highlights of which were a cartoon of Bale as a tick and this flight of venom:
“The Bale parasite comes from the cold and rains of Britain. It settled in Spain, at Real Madrid, where, disguising its intentions, it first showed diligence and love for the grass, but soon its nature brought it to suck blood without giving anything in return. More than blood, it sucked, and sucked, the club’s euros. Unlike others of its species, like the flea, the louse, or the bedbug, the Bale parasite does not produce pain or sickness in its grass, but after sucking, between smiles and messing around, shows a tongue-in-cheek disrespect for that off which it lives. He laughs, claps, throws itself to the ground, sings, in a kind of humiliating ceremony, which, at least, finally comes to an end, like all misfortunes.”
It is unlikely that Bill Plaschke will greet Bale similarly in the still printed pages of the Los Angeles Times. He will, in all likelihood, be writing about Tony Gonsolin or the Lakers’ chances of getting Kevin Durant. But he knows his readership better than us.
Bale is a curious case in that he opted not to play for Welsh club Cardiff City and the leg-savaging treacheries of the Championship for the pre-World Cup adulation, nor for the Saudi-moneyed Newcastle United and the pre-World Cup marketing opportunities. He is going to LAFC, which, forgive the insolence given their place atop the Western Conference table, still looks like it should be pronounced Laugh C. It is a relatively new club in a town that already has a team (the LA Galaxy) and, though it seems to have greater ambitions (see Bale), it is still an off-brand choice whose greatest attraction is that Bale won’t catch much stick (see Steve Nicol’s casually lefthanded approval) unless he is just God-awful.
If this seems like it is dismissive of MLS, well, it probably is. Don’t get me wrong—or get me completely wrong; what the hell do I care? MLS is light years from where it was even a decade ago, but it remains both a beneficiary and a victim to North America’s newfound love of soccer at its highest heights (Europe) rather than at its homegrown middlings. MLS is growing at a consistent enough pace that it has found a place, even if the Eurosnob slice of the audience still holds greater sway. What it lacks in history of gravitas it makes up for in fields to find one’s fitness, checks that clear, and fan bases who don’t mind Europe’s less sloppy thirds, fourths, or fifths.
Which brings us to Bale, or whatever is left of Bale. He has been at this for 15 years since beginning his first and most successful stretch at Spurs. Though he was never embraced at Madrid (hell, he was regarded as verminous) he still put in eight years, with the requisite wear and tear that creates. His principal role at LAFC will be to prep for Wales while making somewhere around $2 million as a targeted allocation like Chiellini and kicking in what he can for the conference leaders. Hey, they all know what he’s coming for. If he likes it, maybe he stays beyond this season. At least his days of being compared to a parasitic arachnid are behind him. Probably.