Gareth Bale to China: Real Madrid star must embrace culture – Mousa Dembele

Updated: 26/05/2023


Gareth Bale came off the bench as Real Madrid were thrashed 7-3 by rivals Atletico in a friendly on Saturday

Gareth Bale will be a success in China and will enjoy the experience as long as he embraces the culture, says former Tottenham midfielder Mousa Dembele.

The Belgian, 32, played alongside Bale for Spurs from 2012 until 2013, and moved to Guangzhou R&F in January.

Bale is set to leave Real Madrid to join Jiangsu Suning and will reportedly earn £1m per week.

“Gareth will do very well here and it's a league where he'll fit in,” Dembele told BBC Sport.

“He is an unbelievable player. In China they want people who create something from nothing. If you're a stable player who just passes sideways they don't really make the difference because they can only have three [overseas] players on the pitch.

“Gareth can beat three players and shoot, so for him it will be easy.”

Dembele accepts that money is a significant part of the appeal to many players as they approach the end of their careers.

However, he said huge wages alone should not be a deciding factor for the Welshman, who has won four Champions Leagues, one La Liga title, a Copa del Rey, three Uefa Super Cups and three Club World Cups with Real Madrid.

“Money is a thing in moving here, of course,” said Dembele.

“People who come here earn good money but it depends. If you come here only for the money and you don't enjoy the experience and lock yourself away in your hotel then it's bad.

“If you earn good money and you enjoy the culture then it's a good experience.”

What can Bale expect from playing in China?

Dembele left Tottenham for £11m because it was his “dream” to explore new cultures

Bale, 30, is no stranger to China.

His profile in the region increased dramatically when he moved to Real for a world-record fee in 2013 and he was mobbed at Nanning Airport when he arrived with Wales for last year's China Cup.

Life, though, as a player in the Chinese Super League is a long way away from what he experienced playing in Europe, Dembele says.

“It's very different, including how the people react to you in daily life,” he said.

“I told the players at Tottenham that in the last few years of my career I wanted to go to a different country. When China came I was happy because it's a big challenge and I wanted to have a culture shock.

“It depends how you are as a personality. I know a lot of people who come here and think it's rubbish and hate it but if you're open-minded it's very cool.

“It's so funny to think the plane ride is ‘only' about 12 hours but it's a different world when you get here – and it's totally different on the pitch as well.”

Family far away and intense heat – the downsides

Bale and his wife have three children and, Dembele says, the move does come with its downsides.

“If there are two negatives about China they are that it is so far from my family and friends, plus where I am in Guangzhou it's hot for the whole year.

“I'm used to living in cold areas for my whole life, but here in the winter it's 22 degrees. For six months it's more than 30 degrees and it's very humid.

“I'm here with my wife and kids. My kids are young – four and two – and they enjoy it because they have a nice setup, they can swim a lot. They look at everything positively.

“For my wife at the beginning it was a bit difficult because she loved London. The language is hard but now she really enjoys it. It's always negative to be a bit far from your family but she enjoys the rest of it.”

No regrets about leaving Tottenham

Dembele's team were in action on Saturday, losing 5-3 away to Shanghai Shenhua. The fixture meant Dembele found himself in the city where Tottenham took on Manchester United in a friendly two days previously.

That afforded the midfielder the chance to catch up with his old team-mates, who reached the Champions League final in June.

His club's success after his departure was not lost on his new colleagues in China.

“When I came to the club they were all laughing,” he said.

“But people who know me know I never regret my choices. Even if it's a bad choice it's a good choice for me because I made it.

“I was very happy for Tottenham because they deserve it and no-one works harder than them. As players they are very good guys so you want them to succeed. It's a shame for me but I didn't regret anything for one second.”

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