The debate between quality and quantity has raged for decades over a wide spectrum of topics.
Anybody that’s gone into a supermarket on an empty stomach has felt the dilemma between choosing one piece of quality confectionary or a grab bag of five jam doughnuts for 60p.
We’re encouraged to binge-watch entire series in one sitting on Netflix, in direct contrast to savouring episodes once a week in a sit-down piece of ‘event television’.
And then there’s Gareth Bale’s nine-year career at Real Madrid. Despite winning five Champions League titles and scoring goals that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Roy of the Rovers comic, Bale’s time in Spain is widely regarded as underwhelming.
Perhaps that’s because of his world-record transfer fee. Perhaps that’s because of his dogged refusal to become fluent in Spanish and choose the golf course over integrating with his team-mates.
Or perhaps it’s because his goal record wasn’t as freakish as Cristiano Ronaldo’s.
But, as the years roll by and Bale’s career begins to recede into the distance, even the most die-hard Madridista will acknowledge few players could turn on the style like the Welshman.
Eight months after scoring that goal against Liverpool in Kyiv, Bale and Madrid travelled to the Club World Cup finals in Abu Dhabi as hot favourites to retain their title.
The forward shook off an injury to start against Japanese side Kashima Antlers and immediately started dissecting their defenders and serving them up as sushi.
After slotting home the opener as calmly as you’d post a letter, Bale emerged for the second half in the kind of mood to make the Asian champions regret every life choice that had led them into his path.
Taking advantage of one slack backpass, the pony-tailed assassin rounded the hilariously upright goalkeeper and rolled the ball into an open net. Sometimes, football is easy.
Having pinned Kashima against the wall with no hope of escape, Bale didn’t take much longer to complete the kill. Marcelo threaded a cute pass to the lurking forward, who took a touch before roofing it with the heat of the earth’s core past the goalkeeper.
3-0, three Bale goals. An evening’s work completed in just 11 minutes. Now that’s efficiency.
🇪🇸 Real Madrid 3-1 Kashima Antlers 🇯🇵: Real ficou longe de ser genial, mas sofreu raros sustos. Dificuldade maior foi conseguir passar pelo organizado Antlers. Hat-trick de Bale saiu de duas assistências de Marcelo (cada vez melhor) e uma falha da defesapic.twitter.com/wcyAUP3K0O
— Pitacos da Bola (@pitacosdabola) December 19, 2018
Of course, the main gripe against Bale from the handkerchief-waving spectators at the Bernabeu was that he didn’t produce these moments consistently enough.
As Sid Lowe wrote in The Guardian when Bale was loaned to Tottenham in 2020: “The saddest thing about Gareth Bale’s departure from Real Madrid is that no one is really sad at all.
“Instead, there is anger and disappointment but mostly a kind of weary relief, a release. He’s gone? Good, we can all get on with our lives.”
Even the silent section of Madrid fans who supported Bale were pleased to see him go, to end the various sagas and move on from an increasingly toxic situation.
But few players that have worn the famous white shirt have produced a highlights reel quite like Bale. And we suspect, as time passes by, that this will come to define his time at Madrid.
If nothing else, Bale showed that, sometimes, quality can trump quantity.
By Michael Lee