The Bale & Dragon
The PMA's Mike Berry presented Gareth Bale with his own bespoke, hand-painted pub sign at his home ground - the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. The sign has featured prominently in BT Sport's Champions League advertising campaign with the magazine this year.
Does Madrid feel like home now?
Home will always be Wales but I’m adapting and feeling more comfortable. I’ve realised why British players have found it difficult in the past as it is really different over here. I’m enjoying the challenge though.
I’m learning the language and did an interview in Spanish at the start of season. No one understood it though! Spanish is the main language spoken in the dressing room but there are a few players who speak English so I get by. I understand more than I can speak.
Is the Spanish league the best in Europe?
It’s hard to say — I know that the Premier League is the most competitive. In Spain I don’t think the bottom team could beat the top team, whereas in England that could happen any week. It’s a different style of play here, more about tactics and possession, whereas the Premier League is a fast, physical league.
I’ve learnt a different way of playing since I left England and I think that’s helped me improve my game.
What are your hopes for this season?
I need to play well to prove to myself that I can keep at the top level. Real Madrid has got off to a good start and it’s important we push on this year. For me it’s about enjoying my football; trying to win the league and the Champions League and doing well for the team.
Wales has qualified for Euro 2016 next summer — what was the key to the team’s success?
Confidence and belief has been high among the players and the nation got behind us. I always believed that we would qualify even though history was against us. It’s a massive achievement for all of us. We’ll try and do the country proud at the tournament — we don’t want to just make up the numbers.
What were the celebrations like after you qualified?
We sealed qualification in Bosnia so we celebrated in the dressing room and back at the hotel, where all the players and staff got together and were dancing and singing. Back in Wales we had a big celebration with family and friends in the team hotel.
Did you used to feel envious when your teammates went off to major tournaments?
Yes, but they always came back with the same thing as me — nothing! And I got to have an extra couple of weeks’ holiday! Of course I was a little bit jealous, but that’s what motivated me to do well.
How would you fancy your chances against England at Euro 2016?
If we get England in the draw then I’d be happy. We’re confident we can beat whoever we play and I’m sure the pressure would be on them.
How do you relax?
I love playing golf and the fact you can get away from everything and be with your friends. Golf etiquette means no one bothers you on the course. It’s good to switch off from football and concentrate on getting my handicap down. It’s hard to go out here because Madrid is such a football crazy city, so we tend to eat out early before the restaurants get busy.
What are your top memories of growing up in Wales?
On weekends our family would go to the local rugby club in Whit-church, where I grew up, to meet friends and watch the match on the big screen. My Dad used to play there so we spent a lot of time at the club along with our friends and families. The kids would be outside playing football on the field and it was good fun. I have some really good memories of that.
When I was at Spurs and came back home from London, I would often meet my mates down the local pub [Gareth is a teetotaller] to watch a match and have a game of pool. Because the village is quite small everyone knows each other and it’s always a friendly atmosphere.
Which of your teammates would be best to have a drink with?
I’d say Joe Ledley or James Collins as they would be the most fun. Did you see Ledley’s celebrations after we qualified?!
Who would be the last to buy a round?
Probably Wayne Hennessey as he keeps his hands in his pockets!
Gareth Bale is an ambassador for BT Sport — the new home of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League exclusively live. Visit btsport.com