Gareth Bale’s future at Real Madrid hinges on role in team
Wales forward disappointed by Benítez sacking but has no plans to leave club
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane with Cristiano Ronaldo during a Real Madrid training session at the Valdebebas training ground. Photograph: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Zinedine Zidane has admitted that the pressure is already on to win an 11th European Cup as he faced the press for the first time since taking over from the sacked Rafael Benítez.
Real Madrid last won what they consider to be their holy grail in 2014, the year of “La Décima” when they beat Atlético Madrid 4-1, and will first see action in the Champions League under their French coach when they fly to Roma in the first round of the knockout stages on February 17th.
“To win is absolutely essential in this group,” Zidane said of that game, “and I’m very aware of it. We are in the last 16 and the target is always to win in the Champions League and will continue to be so.”
Asked about his emotions when he was handed the job by the president, Florentino Pérez, he said: “No coach is prepared, fully prepared, especially a coach who has never been to this level before, but I feel kind of prepared. I’ve got motivation, I’ve got hope and all that will help me.”
Earlier in the day thousands of fans turned out to watch Zidane take charge of his first training session held at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium at Madrid’s training complex.
The club traditionally opens its doors to the first practice session of the year and it estimated that 6,000 supporters turned up for the occasion. Zidane’s first game proper will be on Saturday at home against Deportivo La Coruña. Real are third in La Liga, four points behind the leaders Atlético Madrid and two behind Barcelona.
Comparisons have been drawn between Zidane’s appointment by Madrid and Pep Guardiola’s ascent to the top job at Barcelona in 2008 but the Frenchman dismissed those. “Guardiola is Guardiola. I will do all my best. Guardiola is a formidable coach. What he is doing is incredible. But I am not going to compare. I never did it as a player and I am never going to do it as a coach.”
Asked about the futures of James Rodríguez and Isco, Zidane said: “I’m going to say something: the whole team will be important, the whole squad. James and Isco who are two formidable players will be important for me, for the team, for everyone.”
Gareth Bale, meanwhile, has no plans to leave Real in the wake of Benítez’s sacking on Monday but his future at the club will hinge largely on how Zidane deploys him between now and the end of the season, and specifically whether he remains in a central role.
Benítez’s dismissal came as a major disappointment to Bale, who enjoyed playing under the former Liverpool manager and respected the fact the Spaniard, backed by Pérez, stayed true to his promise to play him through the middle.
Bale, who has scored seven times in his past seven appearances, wants to be used in a position where he can have the greatest influence on the game and any significant change to that approach under Zidane would have major ramifications for the world’s most expensive footballer.
Zidane gave strong backing to Bale yesterday. “I understand he can been annoyed with the departure of Benítez because he was an important coach for him but he is going to have the same affection [from me] as with Rafa. He is important for the squad, fundamental for the team. He’s phenomenal and what he has been doing recently is fantastic. I am going to give him all my affection and support so that he plays well.”
Although it remains to be seen how Zidane will set up the team, the manager’s message of support to Bale is understood to have followed assurances from the Madrid hierarchy since Benítez’s departure that the Welshman remains key to the club’s plans. Pérez, in short, has no desire to sell the player.
As for Bale, he is desperate to win La Liga – just about the only piece of silverware missing from his collection since joining Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013 – loves playing for the club and believes he could not be in a better place when it comes to trying to fulfil his ambition to one day win the Ballon d’Or.
Yet there is no getting away from the importance he attaches to where he plays on the pitch, and Zidane, with whom Bale has never had much chance to build a relationship for no reason other than their paths have rarely crossed, holds a lot of cards in that respect. There is certainly no sense that anyone in Bale’s camp is overly anxious about the situation, and coming back to the Premier League is certainly not part of their thinking right now. At the age of 26, Bale is approaching his peak years, playing for Madrid is seen as being as good as gets and the messages from those that matter inside the Bernabéu are always positive.
Equally, there would be a frenzy of interest, including from Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea, if things unravelled under Zidane and Bale sought a fresh start come the summer. Guardian Service