Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane is ready to put his faith in Gareth Bale as he looks set to stay at the Bernabeu.
The Wales forward was omitted from Zidane’s squad for a pre-season friendly with RB Salzburg, having also previously missed the club’s trip to Germany for the Audi Cup.
That came after the collapse of Bale’s proposed transfer to Chinese club Jiangsu Suning amid widespread speculation his six-year stay in Spain was about to end.
Bale reportedly skipped the trip to Germany, where the Spanish giants faced Tottenham and Fenerbahce, as he was furious with his treatment at the hands of Zidane and president Florentino Perez and felt he was not in the right frame of mind to play.
But Zidane now seems to have changed his mind on the Welshman.
He said in a press conference ahead of Real’s opening LaLiga match against Celta Vigo, as reported by L’Equipe: “It seemed that (Bale) was going to leave but today he is here with us.
“The dynamics are changing, things are changing. From now on, I will rely on him, as on others.
“I will rely on all the players who are here. He has his place, he is an important player and I hope that all the players will make the task of choosing a team difficult.”
Zidane was dealt a blow on the eve of the new season, as summer signing Eden Hazard was ruled out for a few weeks with a thigh injury.
An injury update on Real’s official website said: “Following tests carried out after training today, our player Eden Hazard has been diagnosed by the Real Madrid medical team with a lesion in the recto anterior muscle of the left thigh. Pending evaluation.”
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Real Madrid target Donny Van de Beek admitted that there is a good chance of him staying at Ajax this campaign.
The Dutchman, who excelled in Ajax’s run to the Champions League semi-finals last season, was set to join Madrid after they failed in their pursuit of Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.
But when asked after Ajax’s 3-2 friendly win over PAOK on Tuesday, the 22-year-old said there is nothing certain about his future but is not ruling out staying in Amsterdam.
“They’re a fantastic club, but Ajax are too,” he said to Ziggo Sport when asked about Madrid.
“I’ve nothing to complain about in that regard. There’s a very good chance I’ll continue playing here, but nothing is certain yet.”
When pressed on whether it would be better for the club to have clarity on his future, he said: “I hope so, too, because I’m a bit fed up with all the questions about it.”
Zinedine Zidane returned to save Real Madrid and the time has come for results.
In a packed-out press conference under the Santiago Bernabeu in March, the club’s president Florentino Perez delivered the grandest of re-introductions.
“We need to start working on a glorious new era,” said Perez. “That is why we welcome back Zinedine Zidane.”
Some might have expected a bounce but nobody blamed the coach when performances continued to drag and the gap behind Barcelona, rather than narrowing, widened.
Zidane took over a team with nothing to play for and a squad he knew was in need of reform. He knew because he had left it nine months earlier, just before it was broken.
There was no quick fix. In his 11 games at the end of last season, Madrid won five, the only promise of progress the words Zidane kept repeating. “Things will change, for sure,” he said.
Zidane denied it but they were seen as trials, every line-up scanned for clues as to who would survive the summer.
Yet in some ways, none of it mattered and the results, not to mention attendances at the Santiago Bernabeu, said as much. “The best thing for us is that it’s over,” said Zidane, after the season ended in defeat.
And now it begins again, the season, and Zidane’s second era as coach.
Many wondered why he came back, risking everything after the perfection of three Champions League titles out of three.
The assumption was he returned to a stronger hand, able to make demands the club were ready to meet and with the backing to rebuild in the way he had always wanted.
He might have been encouraged too, when Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy, Luka Jovic, Rodrygo and Eden Hazard all signed for a total close to €300 million.
Hazard was the headline act, a throw-back to a previous era that Zidane knew well, when the world’s most glamorous players seemed to walk through the doors every year.
“I’m not a galactico, not yet, but I hope I will be one day,” said Hazard when he joined.
But Madrid’s pockets are not as deep as they once were and sales were also needed, by the club and their coach.
Zidane showed no inclination to make soothe and use Gareth Bale, instead urging the Welshman to make a move to China.
“It is very close,” Zidane said. “We hope he leaves soon, it would be best for everyone.”
Bale’s agent told AFP Zidane was a “disgrace” and if the Frenchman had hoped to push the deal over the line, he would be disappointed as Madrid changed their mind over the fee.
James Rodriguez is also yet to leave and there were others that proved more difficult to bring in such as Paul Pogba and even Neymar.
In other areas, Zidane has resisted change, backing experience over youth even if many believed experience last season had turned into apathy.
Marcelo, Casemiro and Keylor Navas have stayed while Marcos Llorente was allowed to join Atletico Madrid and Sergio Reguilon and Dani Ceballos were both sent out on loan.
For all the talk of upheaval, Madrid’s line-up against Celta Vigo on Saturday is likely to have a distinctly familiar feel.
Yet there could be a new formation, with a 3-5-2 tried after some underwhelming showings in pre-season, allowing Marcelo and Dani Carvajal greater freedom as wing-backs and Hazard to play centrally behind Karim Benzema.
And a shift in focus. Madrid have won La Liga only once in the last seven years, their failures in Spain excused only by unprecedented success in Europe.
“For us next year, the league must be our number one priority,” Zidane said in April.
In that sense, Madrid might profit if Barcelona aim their focus at the Champions League. But the Catalans and Atletico Madrid have both strengthened and look ready to challenge again.
“La Liga is the longest competition, it’s the one that cannot be missed,” Zidane said. “I’m going to drill that in the heads of my players.” His players. Now they have to deliver.