In 2013, three months before he signed for Real Madrid, Gareth Bale successfully trademarked his ‘Eleven of Hearts’ symbol.
It mirrored his celebration; the contortion of his fingers to form a valentine heart, a gesture of love.
He continued to celebrate in this manner after joining Los Blancos for a world-record fee.
And yet, despite this regular plea, Madridistas have never truly loved him at all.
Those who remember Iker Casillas’ unceremonious departure will know Real Madrid have history with unsatisfactory farewells.
Bale’s exit, if he is to leave this summer, may be the most underwhelming of them all.
As his team-mates sheepishly applauded the Bernabeu faithful after their final game of a disappointing 2018/19 season, Bale lumbered down the tunnel with his head bowed.
Now Zinedine Zidane has gone public, saying what we’ve all known for a long time: “We [Real Madrid] hope he leaves soon. It would be best for everyone.”
If this is to be the end of the Welshman in Spain, it is a sad end, if not a predictable one.
There has always been a barrier between Bale and those in Madrid; not just the fans either.
His reluctance (or inability) to learn Spanish beyond the absolute basics is said to underpin his fractious relationship with his team-mates.
In recent years, he has been nicknamed ‘the golfer’ by the dressing room, because of his preference for the sport over social bonding within the squad.
Bale has a bespoke three-hole course in his back garden.
Thibaut Courtois – a player with one season’s experience at the Bernabeu to Bale’s six – criticised the forward for skipping a team meal in favour of an early night back in February.
And despite the pair’s success in tandem, Zinedine Zidane has always been cold on the No11 — the same could be said for Bale’s relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo.
It feels as if Bale’s most heinous crime – one that is unforgivable in eyes of many Bernabeu season ticket holders – is that he is not as good as the Portuguese five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
102 goals and 64 assists in 231 games represents an impressive return, until you compare it to Ronaldo’s statgasm.
But isn’t that the case for everyone not named Lionel Messi?
Because of several notable similarities in playing style, Bale has long been compared directly to Ronaldo, unfavourably so.
Instead of focusing on what he wasn’t, we should appreciate what he was, especially if this is to be end of a trophy-laden spell.
Just last year he scored arguably the greatest goal in Champions League history (plus another courtesy of Loris Karius) to secure Real’s historic double retention.
Bale’s 110th-minute winner in against Atletico Madrid 2014 is not held in the same regard as Sergio Ramos’ injury-time equaliser.
In 2016, he assisted Ramos’ opener in the rematch against Atleti before successfully converting a penalty in the shootout.
Domestically, his lung-busting goal in the 2014 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona is perhaps the most iconic goal in competition’s history.
He has exhibited his breathtaking ability to contribute to some of Real’s most-defining games of the modern era.
These moments have poked holes in the barrier between him and the club, but they have not brought it down.
His persistent injury setbacks have caused the fans much frustration, which has turned to resentment towards Bale in some.
Can we really diminish a player for something beyond their control; something that causes them untold grief, pain and frustration?
Bale’s side haven’t been blameless in the deterioration of his relationship with the club.
His agent, who some would call notorious, has done little to ease the friction.
A vocal campaigner for his client’s talent, he blasted the fans for their ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Bale as recently as March.
No doubt Real’s relatively disastrous 2018/19 fuelled frustration on both sides.
The Welshman’s future is uncertain as his astronomic wages and injury history mean Real will not be inundated with appealing offers.
Whatever the outcome, he deserves to be remembered as far more than just ‘the golfer’.
Bale is a British talent who left the Premier League in his prime and succeeded.
History will be kinder to him than the Bernabeu has ever been.