International break brings welcome respite for Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and other players under pressure

The likes of Gareth Bale and Omer Damari could use a break from the pressures of club football, writes Ian Hawkey

Wales player Gareth Bale pauses during training ahead of a game against Israel at the Vale Hotel on March 25, 2015, in Cardiff, Wales. Stu Forster / Getty Images
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Boos and jeers are a fact of a footballer’s life. In a long career, most can expect to hear them even from their own team’s ­supporters.

So for the world's costliest player, Real Madrid's Gareth Bale, the lighter atmosphere this week around his national side, Wales, may have seemed like a refuge after the insults he has endured from his Spanish club's fans frustrated by their team's dip in form.

Omer Damari has also been hearing a few scornful sounds recently from the fans of his club RB Leipzig.

Unlike Bale, Damari does not receive great global recognition for his sporting achievements, although if you look at the top of the scoring charts for the qualifying campaign for Euro 2016, in which Damari’s Israel host Wales on Saturday, you will find his name is among the leading marksmen.

Damari’s five goals in Group B have helped hoist the Israelis to the top of the pool, a place above the Welsh.

Damari’s goals for his country also helped convince RB Leipzig, the ambitious German club, to pay €5 million (Dh20m) to Austria Vienna for the Israeli, who turned 26 last week, in the winter transfer window.

Leipzig are in the second tier of the Bundesliga, but Damari was persuaded that the move from Austria to East Germany was no step down in terms of his ­prospects.

RB Leipzig are backed by Red Bull, the multinational drinks manufacturer, and through the company’s financial investment have moved up three divisions in five years. They have a slender chance of making that four promotions in six years.

Whether it is this year or next, it seems likely RB Leipzig inevitably will be keeping the company of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga top flight. That explains the venomous chanting that follows them around Germany.

There is resentment from other, longer-established clubs at the corporate backing that RB Leipzig enjoy. Most clubs in Germany are prevented from being majority owned by large businesses, and the perception is that RB Leipzig have exploited a loophole in the ownership regulations.

Damari and his teammates know they are unpopular. They hear it.

At the stadium of Erzgebirge Aue earlier this year, a banner was held up likening RB Leipzig to Nazis. Erzgebirge were fined for the actions of the followers who produced the offensive display.

So, like Bale, Damari may be relieved to be away from that cauldron and back home among compatriots he has known from his days in the Israeli Premier League, where he used to score, on average, a goal every second game for Hapoel Tel Aviv.

He might regain some form, too, in this international break. He has yet to score in Germany but has registered at least one goal in all three of Israel’s ­qualifiers.

Another today would help them towards maintaining their 100 per cent record and their dream of reaching a first European championship finals.

That dream is alive for Wales, too, in a group that has a topsy-turvy look. Beneath Wales and Israel are Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina, who were both at the last World Cup finals, while unsung Cyprus sit third in the table.

Rather mischievously, Eli Guttman, the Israel coach, suggested that Wales owed their solid start to qualifying to the fact that “Bale saves his best football for his country, not for Real Madrid”.

There is no evidence to support that, but the quote made for an unwelcome headline in the Spanish press for the €100m man, whose 2014 Uefa Champions League triumph and his match-winning goal in last year's Copa del Rey final against Barcelona have not been at the forefront of Madridista memories in the past few weeks.