Gareth Bale saved Real Madrid with two goals to earn them a 2-2 draw at Villarreal on Spain's east coast on Sunday night.
The Welsh winger bailed Los Blancos out, and it is remarkable to think that little over a month ago coach Zinedine Zidane was demanding a very different kind of ‘Bale out’.
Bale was sent off for two late yellow cards as the referee found a third way to put Bale out, but right now the forward looks to be Real Madrid’s best player, at least while marquee signing Eden Hazard is out injured.
It was an entertaining battle at the Estadio de la Ceramica, but despite the high fun factor, Madrid fans will remain worried over the immediate future of the team.
Zidane has only won six of 14 games since returning to Madrid last season and the coach increasingly looks like he has no strong grasp of what he wants to do with the team.
Madrid tried a new set-up against Villarreal and Zidane threw in Ferland Mendy and Luka Jovic, giving first starts to two of the new signings. Bale aside, they were the only bright spots for Los Blancos in a haywire encounter.
Jovic’s excellent backheel to Dani Carvajal led to Madrid’s first equaliser after Gerard Moreno’s opener, with the defender crossing for Bale to tuck home.
Bale, who scored his first Madrid goal back at this stadium when it was still called El Madrigal in 2013, was supposed to have left this summer but it is a good job for Madrid that he’s still here.
He was important in the opening day win against Celta Vigo and without him Madrid would have fallen to a defeat.
In July, Zidane said it would be better for everyone if Bale left as quickly as possible, but the coach was left digging into a big slice of humble pie as Bale came up trumps against Villarreal.
The hosts took the lead once more through Moi Gomez and it took a fine individual strike from Bale, cutting in from the right and drilling home, to bring the game back to level terms again.
Bale’s second goal took him to 104 for Real Madrid, the same number as Brazil legend Ronaldo, showing the level that he has performed at over the last six years.
Despite seeming on the precipice this summer, with a move to the Chinese Super League falling through due to Madrid pulling out of the deal late on, it now seems more likely that Bale will outlast Zidane at the Bernabeu.
Providing there are no late shocks on Monday, Spain’s transfer deadline day, Bale will be staying at Madrid and will be a crucial part of the project this year.
Zidane, meanwhile, needs results and performances to improve or his job will be at risk.
Madrid started the season under a storm cloud and drawing with Real Valladolid and Villarreal leaves them four points behind leaders and local rivals Atletico Madrid after just three games.
“A point is always positive,” said Zidane after the game, but his downbeat demeanour betrayed him.
Only Bale had given him anything to smile about, and given the coach’s words this summer it was bittersweet, somewhere between grin and grimace - a lot like Real Madrid’s recent history.
The finale for Bale was bittersweet too, with his red card for two quick fouls tainting the display, but his goals spoke volumes for his status at the club - now more secure than Zidane's