The winger came on to smash home an astonishing overhead kick and also added another as Zinedine Zidane’s side sealed a third straight European Cup
Gareth Bale was signed for moments like this. The Welsh winger was bought by Real Madrid for what was a world record €100 million fee from Tottenham in 2013 and despite criticism over the years, it is fair to say he has paid it all back now.
Earlier on Saturday, the Madrid media had speculated that Bale would start the Champions League final against Liverpool in Kiev, something which would have seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago.
With Zinedine Zidane’s side 2-0 down at home to Juventus in the quarter-finals and in danger of throwing away their three-goal lead from the first leg, Bale was hauled off at half-time. It was a humiliating moment for the 28-year-old, and it looked like the beginning of the end.
But Bale knuckled down and even though he did not start either of the semi-final games against Bayern Munich, he worked hard to get back into Zidane’s plans by scoring five goals in four consecutive league appearances prior to the trip to Kiev.
Those included a superb strike away to Barcelona in the Clasico and two great goals in a 6-0 win at home to Celta Vigo. So when the starting line-up for the final was announced on Saturday and his name was not on it, there was some surprise.
Perhaps the thinking from Zidane was to bring Bale on in the second half to exploit some tired Liverpool legs, with Jurgen Klopp’s men always likely to fade after their early intensity.
Whatever the plan was, it worked. Liverpool looked deflated after Mohamed Salah departed with a shoulder injury following a rough challenge from Sergio Ramos and even though the two teams went in on level terms at the break, the momentum seemed to have swung in Madrid’s favour.
It usually does in Champions League finals. The Spanish side took the lead following a calamitous error from Reds goalkeeper Loris Karius, with Karim Benzema the grateful recipient – just as he had been in the semi-final second leg at home to Bayern Munich.
Sadio Mane quickly equalised at the other end, though, and after 61 minutes it was time for Bale to enter. The winger replaced Isco and made virtually an instant impact as he netted an outrageous overhead kick from the edge of the box.
It was an amazing moment of genius – a bicycle kick that rivalled Cristiano Ronaldo’s astonishing effort against Juventus in the quarter-final in Turin. For a much-maligned player, a footballer often questioned by the media in Spain and even booed on a number of occasions by fans at the Santiago Bernabeu, it was a particularly sweet individual moment.
“I was very disappointed not to start the game, I felt like I deserved it,” Bale told BT Sport at the final whistle, admitting his first strike was the best goal of his career.
“The best I could do is come on and make an impact and that’s what I did.”
“We know what we have achieved and we know how good we have been. It’s turned out to be a great season winning the Champions League.
“Will I leave this summer? I need to be playing week in week out, it hasn’t happened this season for one reason or another. I need to sit down in the summer and discuss things with my agent and take things from there.”
Late in the game, Bale also added another goal with a long-range effort which was fumbled by the hapless Karius and that, added to his header in the 2014 final win over Atletico, means he now has three Champions League final goals.
When Real Madrid bought him, the dream was La Decima – a 10th European Cup. But now Los Blancos have 13 and Bale has played a part in four of them. He also now has a performance and a goal to etch his name into this club’s history and if he ends up leaving this summer, they may just realise how special he is after all.