Gareth Bale not Ronaldo is the key to Real Madrid 'Decima'
Bale is within touching distance of glory, but failure is not an option for Los Blancos
Gareth Bale will become only the eighth Briton to play for a foreign club in the European Cup final when he takes to the field for Real Madrid against their city rivals Atletico on Saturday night in Lisbon.
If he helps his new side achive La Decima – a tenth European Cup success – he would become only the fourth overseas British player to get his hands on the cup, following in the footsteps of Owen Hargreaves, Steve McManaman and Paul Lambert.
A goal would put him in an even more elite band of two, along with McManaman who scored, also for Real Madrid, against Valcencia in 2000.
But just his presence in European football's showpiece event is seen as proof that his decision to quit Spurs last summer and move to Spain in a world record transfer has paid off... for him at least.
Bale has flickered rather than shone this season, but after a spectacular solo goal to win the Copa del Rey for Real and another 20 goals and 16 assists for his new club he has been a qualified success, winning over the bulk of the fans, although inevitably his achievement are overshadowed by those of team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
Yet Bale's reputation and even his future with Real could rest on the outcome of final. "Real are precariously teetering with one foot on the edge of glory and the other on the verge of immense disappointment," says the BBC. "Win, and the current Los Blancos crop will be hailed as milestone-marking legends; lose, and they will be castigated as inexcusable failures."
Madrid's wait for La Decima has been a long one, by their standards at least. It is 12 years since Zinedine Zidane's sublime volley won the title at Hampden Park against Bayer Leverkusen.
Among the players to have come and gone from the Bernabeu since then are Ronaldo, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Fabio Cannavaro, Arjen Robben and Kaka, while the club have spent £1bn in transfer fees since their last success notes the Daily Mail.
But Bale's statistics this season prove he has been the equal of most of the illustrious names that came before him. He has scored more goals than Michael Owen managed in his season at the Bernabeu and has contributed as many assists as David Beckham managed in two seasons.
Ronaldo will be the focus of the Atletico defence, but as Bale showed in the Spanish cup final he is a force to be reckoned with on the big stage, and if Ronaldo is taken out of the equation then Bale's statistics are the best on display.
"It now seems rather laughable that, after an unconvincing start, Bale was labelled as a flop in some quarters following his £86m summer transfer," says Eurosport. And, it adds, "he stands just as much chance of being the hero of the final as... Cristiano Ronaldo".