Gareth Bale fitness in doubt for home Champions League final

Welsh winger says he returned from injury too early ahead of Real clash with Juventus

Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Luka Modric joke around during a training session ahead of the Champions League final. Photo: Sergio Perez/Reuters

Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Luka Modric joke around during a training session ahead of the Champions League final. Photo: Sergio Perez/Reuters

 

Gareth Bale fought through the pain, obliged to take pills to get him through training and matches, but he concedes that the Champions League final in his home city might still have come to soon for him to start. Real Madrid’s Cardiff-born forward admitted that he returned too soon after surgery on an ankle ligament injury sustained in November and that he is not yet fully fit. He said that he was prepared to play a substitute’s role in Saturday’s match with Juventus at the Millennium Stadium, after six months of suffering.

Bale’s ligament came away from his right ankle during a Champions League clash with Sporting Lisbon in November and although he came back to action to score on his return against Espanyol 88 days later, he was still struggling with the effects of the operation, even though calf problems were cited as the immediate cause. Bale admits that he may have returned too soon and he was forced to withdraw in the first half of the clasico on April 23rd. The 27-year-old has not played since, although he is in full training with team-mates as he works towards Cardiff.

The debate in Spain has been over whether it would be Isco or Bale who starts the final but the Welshman appeared to have few doubts that it would be the Spaniard who gets the nod. Although he described the final as “very special” he will accept that. Indeed, he appears to expect that. It has been a long road back and it is not yet over.

“I am not 100 per cent: I haven’t played for six or seven weeks: I obviously had my operation which still really hasn’t recovered,” Bale said. “If I’m called upon to start, I will start obviously. But to last 90 minutes: I haven’t played a lot of football this year since my operation, so that would be difficult. Isco has been playing fantastically well for us, at the end of the season, so whatever the manager decides I will [accept it]. Whether he or I start, we’ll both be cheering each other on.”

Bale comes off injured during Real Madrid’s loss to Barcelona in April. Photo: Getty Images
Bale comes off injured during Real Madrid’s loss to Barcelona in April. Photo: Getty Images

Bale added: “I’m sure [Zidane]will speak to us and I’ll find out at some point, but I have been working hard, training now the last few days. We had a practice game on Saturday and I came through it all unscathed. I feel strong, feel fit, [but]obviously match fitness is a different thing.

“It has been a difficult season, so whatever I am required to do [I will do]. I obviously have battled hard to get fit for this, and whatever is the best for the team is the most important thing: to lift that Champions League trophy is the most important thing.”

As Bale explained the recovery process, he gave the strongest indication yet as to the gravity of his injury, the difficulties he faced and possible mistakes made in his rehabilitation, and the doubts it provoked. The time out of action has at least allowed him to focus more fully on a more fundamental, underlying problem: the rehabilitation of the ankle, which was still incomplete.

“The last six or seven weeks have enabled me to rest my ankle a bit and really try to get it a bit better, and obviously recover from the injury which it caused,” Bale said. “I am not 100 per cent, but I have been working hard, double sessions the last few weeks, to get myself as ready as I can, whether to start, or to be involved at some point.

“I have been playing with a lot of pain. Even when I came back, I was taking tablets to get through games and training. There have been moments when I have had to consider other things with my ankle.”

Bale did not clarify what he meant by “other things”, whether that suggested more radical treatment, or perhaps even more difficult decisions, but he did say: “It has just been difficult to come back from the ankle operation. Obviously, any surgery is difficult, but in the middle of a season is always that bit more difficult.”

He continued: “You want to come back as soon as possible. In hindsight, I should have stayed out a bit longer and let it heal and strengthen. But obviously that wasn’t the case, I’ll live and I’ll learn, and now I can concentrate on [the injury],” he continued.

“I have had to work tirelessly hard, double sessions, being away from my family a lot working hard on it. It has been difficult, physically and mentally, but the most important thing is to try and get myself to be ready at some point for the game, whether that is starting or coming off the bench.”

He added: “It has been difficult for sure. It has been difficult since coming back from my operation, but it is one of those I have really worked hard towards. Even if it wasn’t the Champions League final, I would have been working hard to get back as much as I can, but obviously this is a massive game: we ultimately want to win the Champions League. And it is massively special for me personally, as it is where I was born, where I grew up. Any Champions League final is special, but this is a little bit extra special.

“I always dreamed I’d play a CL final, but never in my home town. At the time there was not a stadium big enough, I don’t think.”

Team-mate Luka Modric said: “He was one of the best players at the start of the season and it’s not nice for him that he has suffered since. The second half of the season was all injuries for him and we are now really pleased to have him back because he has shown before that he is a player for the finals.

“Gareth is very honest and I’m sure that he will talk to the manager and they will come to a conclusion based on what is best for the team. We are very happy to have him back with us. And we have shown all season that no matter who plays he plays well.”

(Guardian service)

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