This summer has likely been a nice change of pace for Gareth Bale.
Missing the World Cup, of course, will have been a disappointment for the Welshman, but unlike 12 months ago, the 25-year-old has enjoyed relative anonymity this time around.
Without the intensity of a transfer saga, the weight of a world-record fee, the limelight of a glitzy unveiling, the overwhelming deluge of interview questions, the discomfort of a change in country and the suffocating burden of unparalleled expectation, Bale will have enjoyed a summer a little more like yours or mine over the past couple of months.
From afar, the former Tottenham star has seen others scrutinised during their time in Brazil and witnessed contemporaries such as James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos navigate through the Real Madrid fanfare. He's also watched opponents and teammates alike endure an exhausting summer—one that will have taken a physical and psychological toll as the new season arrives.
The end product is a fresh, vibrant Bale. A well-rested and fully fit Bale. A ready-to-take-Europe-by-storm Bale.
While others will still be limbering up at the blocks, the Welshman will enjoy a running start.
"It was disappointing not being in Brazil, but I have had seven weeks of rest and I can now have a full pre-season," Bale said at the beginning of Real Madrid's training camp in California, per Pete Jenson of the Daily Mail.
A pre-season he was denied of last summer.
"I want to have an even better season than last year: I want to give more assists and score more goals; I want to improve in every aspect."
He wants to improve upon his 22 goals and 17 assists in all competitions last term.
"It was tough adapting without a pre-season, but this season will be different in that sense. It was a massive change for me, but in time I have become very comfortable here."
That's footballer code for: I was still getting the hang of it all last season. Defenders everywhere in Europe are screwed now.
What Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid are set to witness in 2014-15 is the Bale of two seasons ago at White Hart Lane.
They'll witness the guy who left scorch marks all around England, smashing in 21 league goals as a roaming midfielder, doing so with a combination of explosive power and sublime skill that had rarely been seen previously in the Premier League.
Real Madrid are getting the Bale who almost burst the netting from 30 yards at West Ham, the Bale who cut the heart out of Manchester United at Old Trafford, the Bale who rendered a whole Newcastle United team utterly helpless, the Bale who demoralised Lyon with a simply exquisite pair of free-kicks.
Basically, Ancelotti and president Florentino Perez are getting everything you'd expect from an £85 million player.
And possibly more.
Last season, it was a combination of factors from all fronts that saw Bale endure a somewhat underwhelming beginning to life as a Galactico in his opening months in Madrid.
Dealing with niggling injuries in the absence of a pre-season, the Welshman was still growing accustomed to a new home with a new language and a new culture, while trying to live up to an unattainable standard on the field.
In uniform, the 25-year-old was forced to adapt on the fly, forced to develop chemistry with Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. in the heat of competition, all while Ancelotti tinkered with the team's systematic approach to accommodate his talents.
And he had to do all of that, despite not playing a full 90 minutes until November arrived. Finding his feet was a gradual process.
It's not difficult to see the differences between then and now as the 2014-15 campaign arrives.
For defenders in Spain and across Europe, the warning signs are obvious.
"I have become very comfortable here," were the most telling of Bale's words when in California.
This is a player, remember, who scored 22 times, made 17 assists, registered a hat-trick in just his ninth La Liga outing and struck the decisive goals in the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals before he'd gotten comfortable.
"He's doing what he wasn't able to do last year," Ancelotti said of Bale on Monday, according to Sportal.
Given what he could do last year, that's a frightening prospect for those getting ready to face the Welshman this time around.
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