It was hardly a surprise when Gareth Bale was left out of Real Madrid’s matchday squad to face Manchester City in this week’s Champions League last 16 second leg at the Etihad Stadium. After all, the Welsh winger has been something of a peripheral figure for the Spanish side this season, only making a handful of starts over the 2019/20 campaign.
What was surprising, though, was the reason Zinedine Zidane gave for Bale’s absence in Manchester. “It was a personal conversation I had with him. He preferred not to play,” the Frenchman responded when asked why the 31-year-old hadn’t travelled with the rest of the squad for the crunch match. “The rest remains between me and him but he said he didn’t want to play.”
The true nature of the conversation between Bale and Zidane is not known, but it doesn’t reflect well on the former that he has decided against even travelling to one of his team’s most important games of the season so far. Bale has earned some sympathy of late for the situation he finds himself in in the Spanish capital, but this episode might see him lose some of his defenders.
Until now, the relationship between Bale and Real Madrid had cooled. While the two parties have been tethered together through inconvenience for years, there was an acceptance on both sides that nothing was about to change. The most recent noises out of the Bale camp are that he will see out the rest of his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu while Real Madrid have seemingly run out of ways to get the player out of the club.
The in-fighting had stopped, but this latest episode has the potential to stoke tensions once more. Last summer, Real Madrid came close to moving Bale on to the Chinese Super League only for them to demand a transfer fee at the last moment. It’s a stance they have kept ever since, but if they feel Bale is becoming a toxic influence, rather than just a passive one, in the dressing room it’s possible they could change that stance and forego any fee.
It’s a shame for all concerned that Bale and Real Madrid have ended up in this situation. Until this week, it appeared set to continue until the summer of 2022, when Bale’s contract in the Spanish capital will expire. But what has now happened has the potential to shift the landscape.
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