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In limbo: The Bale-Zizou equation

The drama — both on and off the field — just keeps on increasing

Back in 2013, Welsh winger and Tottenham Hotspur player Gareth Bale joined Spanish giants Real Madrid for a world-record deal of £85 million—a move that eclipsed the £80 million Real had paid for Manchester United’s star-studded number 7 Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, the relationship between Bale and his 47-year-old coach Zinédine Zidane has gone from sour to toxic in the past fortnight, putting the Welshman’s future at the club in a state of limbo.

On July 21, Bale was left out of the Madrid squad in a pre-season friendly against Bayern Munich, in which the Galacticos suffered a 3-1 defeat. When reporters posthumously asked Zidane the reason for this, the Frenchman said: “Bale did not play because he is very close to leaving. We hope he leaves soon, it would be best for everyone. We are working on his transfer to a new team.”

He added: “I have nothing personal against him, but there comes a time where things are done because they must be done, I have to make decisions, we have to change. The exit is the coach’s decision, and also of the player, who knows the situation. The situation will change, I do not know if in 24 or 48 hours, but it will, and it’s a good thing for everyone.”

Zidane also hinted heavily at Bale’s transfer being just around the corner. “We’ll have to see if it goes through tomorrow, if it does then all the better. Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, that it happens soon.”

It was these comments from the Madrid manager that flung open the gates for drama, both, inside and outside the Santiago Bernabéu over the next couple of days.

Bale’s agent, Jonathan Barnett, called Zidane a “disgrace,” and said that he had shown zero respect for a player who had done a lot for the Spanish club. However, on the eve of Madrid’s next friendly against Arsenal, Zidane reportedly denied having disrespected the Welshman and said that it was Bale who had made the choice to not play against Bayern Munich earlier. “The other day, Gareth did not dress for the game, he did not want to because the club was negotiating his departure,” he said.

Bale was being heavily touted to move to Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning in a whopping £1m-a-week deal. But just before the lucrative transfer could be finalised, Madrid pulled the plug on the switch—a move reportedly orchestrated by Real president Florentino Perez—who has defended Bale’s position at the club and reiterated that the Welshman is too valuable to let go for cheap. According to The Telegraph, Madrid’s hierarchy wanted a transfer fee as well for Bale’s exit.

Now, with the Chinese transfer window having shut on Wednesday, Bale’s position at the Spanish club is even more uncertain than what it was a fortnight back. He finds himself stuck in limbo between a manager who doesn’t seem to like him very much, and the club’s president, who doesn’t want to see him leave the Santiago Bernabéu. Last but not least, Zidane’s summer signing of Belgian superstar Eden Hazard—who plays on the same Left Wing as Bale—is expected to further put Bale’s already bleak chances of starting games, in further jeopardy.

But should any of this take away from the athletic prowess that the Welshman possesses? After all, he’s no Alvaro Morata or Alexis Sanchez, big names who couldn’t perform up to the mark during their respective brief stints at Real Madrid.

In his six years at Real Madrid, Bale has won 14 major trophies and scored a phenomenal 102 goals (with 65 assists) in 231 matches. He has scored three goals (and one penalty) in four victorious UEFA Champions League finals, including what could be argued as one of the greatest goals in a Champions League final—a bicycle kick scored against Liverpool in 2018 after coming off the bench. In fact, he is only two goals behind Brazilian legend Ronaldo, who scored a total of 104 goals during his five years at Real Madrid—a feat widely lauded by Madrid supporters. Therefore to say that his performance in Spain has been shoddy, is widely unfair.

However, none of this seems to have ever dazzled his coach, who seems to have frozen him out frequently and left him out from the starting lineup in crucial matches. After Zidane’s reappointment to Madrid in 2016, Bale played only 90 minutes in just three of the remaining 11 matches, and was left out completely four times as well as frequently substituted when he did play. He played 42 times last season but ended it on the bench as Real endured one of the worst seasons in recent history, having finished 19 points behind archnemesis and La Liga winner Barcelona.

Real’s match against Arsenal last Tuesday in the International Champions Cup saw Gareth Bale making a goal scoring return to the Spanish side. Madrid drew 2-2 and went on to beat the London club in a penalty shootout. Despite Bale’s performance, Zidane said “nothing has changed.”

“He put in a good performance and I’m pleased for him,” said Zidane. “Nothing has changed, you know the situation.

“He played today, he wanted to and he did a good job. He wanted to be with us today; he trained normally and played the match. I make the decisions and he played one half. We’ll have to see what happens. He’s still here with us at this stage.”

It is important to note that the injury of Bale’s teammate Marco Asensio—who was stretchered off during the Arsenal match—could affect his future. Real confirmed in a statement after the match that “Asensio had been diagnosed with a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament and the external meniscus of his left knee. The player will be surgically operated on in the next few days.” So, it’s safe to say that he could be missing out on the next nine months of football.

The Times argued that the smartest thing for the Welshman to do at this point would be to try and see whether they can outlast a coach who wishes he was not there (club president Florentino Perez had literally begged Zidane to return to the club in March this year, just ten months after the latter had quit the job).  But will Bale be able to hold down his place in the starting side given the deteriorating relationship with his coach? Only time will tell.