It’s been nearly six full seasons since Gareth Bale awkwardly recited a few Spanish phrases in a slight but unmistakable Welsh accent before signing off with a ‘Hala Madrid!’
Following a world record transfer from Tottenham, his unveiling as a Real Madrid player at the Santiago Bernabeu was met with raucous applause. Despite having gone on to score 102 goals in 225 appearance and win 13 major trophies including four Champions League crowns, Bale has lately grown accustomed to jeers and whistles resonating around the same venue.
Such is life in the white of Madrid. Even Cristiano Ronaldo, who won four of his five Ballon d’Ors at the club, was not exempt from the harsh judgement and unforgiving glare of Los Blancos’ following. Bale should’ve been aware of this going in. It comes with the territory.
He’s often fought back from low points in the Spanish capital but a steady deterioration has taken shape this season, exacerbated by the team’s general turmoil. After being consistently omitted from the starting line-up, coming off the bench to score an overhead kick in the Champions League final last year to inspire Los Merengues to victory was one example of his capacity to produce a compelling response.
How he must wish he forced a move away from the club then, when his stock had sky-rocketed. Instead, Ronaldo’s departure either blocked his exit route or convinced him that his moment to thrive as Madrid’s talisman had finally arrived. Either way, the Welshman stayed put only to endure a deeply disappointing campaign.
With all possibilities of silverware extinguished, Madrid have reinstated Zinedine Zidane, handing him the task of rebuilding the La Liga giants into a formidable outfit ahead of next season. The Frenchman hasn’t always held Bale in the highest regard. He’s not opposed to playing the 29-year-old in a big game but he’s hardly the first name on the team sheet. Last season Bale often found himself behind Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Isco and even Marco Asensio in the pecking order.
Into his second spell at the Bernabeu, Zidane has started Bale in each of his first two games but there’s a sense that his inclusion is a matter of necessity rather than choice. With Vinicius Junior injured and Asensio struggling for form all season, attacking options are limited.
Both Bale and Madrid appear to be biding time until the summer transfer window comes around and Zidane’s comments following a late win against Huesca were intriguing. Bale endured a frustrating outing and was a peripheral figure at best. Madrid fans predictably got on his back and his involvement in the second goal or even the fact that he scored in Zidane’s first game couldn’t spare him their discontent.
If Bale hoped for some sympathy from his manager, it was not forthcoming. Zidane’s post-match thoughts may only have seen media speculation around his future intensify.
“We’re going to have some changes, yes, but it’s not the time to talk about that now,” the Frenchman said.
“I speak to the club, I’ve told the club what we want… At the end of the season things will be made public.”
“I know whistles, it’s never good. You have to accept it. I was whistled,” he added.
“You have to have the character for it and I think the players that are here have sufficient character to deal with it.
“Gareth’s future and other players, we’ll talk about that at the end of the season.”
The questions over Bale’s future now only concern where he ends up and what kind of agreement can be reached. The Welshman’s exponential wages coupled with recent form – which suggests he may be past his peak – complicates matters.
Manchester United have consistently been linked and it’s no secret that they are in the market for a right-sided winger but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may be keen to opt for a young, up and coming option instead. Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City neither require a high-profile attacking player nor the Financial Fair Play complications that would accompany such a pursuit.
Madrid’s best bet may be to use Bale in a deal with Chelsea that would see Eden Hazard make the switch to the Bernabeu.
A return to Tottenham or move to Bayern Munich can’t be ruled out but neither will reach anywhere near his current wages. Failing a pay-cut from the player himself, Madrid may have to negotiate a loan deal instead, much like the one they agreed for James Rodriguez with the Bavarians which benefited all parties.
Bale’s future continues to be riddled with uncertainty but the one thing that’s being made abundantly clear now is that it doesn’t lie in Spain. At this stage, that’s probably for the best.
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane stated it’s a struggle to maintain motivation levels at the club with nothing substantial left to play for this season.
With Madrid having been knocked out of the La Liga title race, Copa del Rey, and Champions League all in the space of a week in March, even Zidane’s return as manager in place of the departed Santiago Solari has not sparked an upturn in performances, though the Frenchman has overseen two wins from two games.
Los Blancos struggled to a 3-2 win against Huesca on Sunday, first fighting back from an early deficit to take a 2-1 lead and then needing an 89th-minute winner to avoid being held to a draw at home by the league’s bottom club.
The performance left plenty to desire, admitted Zidane, who had left the club last summer having led Los Merengues to an unprecedented three straight Champions League titles.
“Obviously, we can play much better than we did today. But I’m happy for the victory and the efforts. Huesca deserved more than a defeat,” said Zidane after the game.
“The changes? I tried to build the best possible team to win, and today it was important to make changes after the international break.
“Anyway, it’s impossible to win a title nowadays with just 13 players in your squad. And to make it clear: I’m not trying to keep everybody happy.
“It’s hard to motivate the team when you know you are not going to win any title this season.”
Zidane also explained the decision to select his son, 20-year-old Luca Zidane, in goal ahead of regulars Thibaut Courtois and Keylor Navas.
“I’m happy for Luca’s first victory with Real Madrid,” he added. “Courtois wasn’t fine, and I wanted to give some rest to Keylor. I think everything was all right”.
Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos scored against Huesca to help his team register a 3-2 win – and he’s not stopping there.
The former Real Betis man endured a disappointing debut season under Zinedine Zidane in the Frenchman’s first stint at the helm, hardly featuring for Los Blancos. However, the Spaniard feels that the past will not play any role as he looks to start a new chapter with his boss.
Ceballos is determined to work hard and succeed at Madrid with Zidane at the helm – having impressed in his first start since the manager’s return.
“I haven’t spoken with Zidane about the past, we have a clean slate now and my goal is to succeed here,” he said, according to Marca.
“I’m happy to get my first goal at the Bernabeu. I told my family yesterday it was time that I scored and I’m very happy for the three points which were vital.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game and the team knew that we would have to stay calm until the end.”