Gareth Bale sits tight despite being iced out by Zinedine Zidane
Winger seems content to sit tight despite no club being able to afford to buy him
Gareth Bale of Real Madrid looks on from the substitute’s bench before the La Liga match between against Real Betis at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Gareth Bale did not even get to say goodbye. If, that is, he is even going – and there is no guarantee that the Welshman will leave the Santiago Bernabéu. The message from Real Madrid could hardly have been clearer, right up to the final day of the season when the manager, Zinedine Zidane, left the Welshman on the bench, but that does not necessarily mean he will depart. Nor will he accept any offer and so far there have been none. Instead there is an increasingly bitter stalemate with no easy solution.
Bale is 30 next month and few clubs could pay the required fee, or his €18m net annual salary; fewer still that he would want to join. And without that, there is no way out. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, honestly,” Zidane said on Sunday after Madrid were defeated 2-0 by Real Betis in their last league game, and he was telling the truth. What he does know is what he wants to happen, and everyone else knows that too: there has been little attempt to hide it. The relationship between the two men has long since broken down, going back to Zidane’s previous spell in charge, and in a brief and blunt meeting the manager has told Bale he does not want him to continue at Madrid.
He has in effect told everybody. When Zidane left Bale out of the squad to face Real Sociedad a week ago, he was asked afterwards if it was a message. “It’s clear what I have done this weekend,” he replied. The week before, Bale had been left out of the squad to face Villarreal. This weekend he was included but there were few other players available to make up the numbers and he did not even leave the bench to warm up. If he is to go, as Zidane wishes, he was denied the chance to play one last time. At the final whistle he headed straight down the tunnel without a word.
If this is to be the end, it is a sad close to a career in Spain during which Bale has won the Champions League four times and the league title once, and scored over 100 goals. He scored the winning goal in two Champions League finals, and a penalty in the shootout in a third. In Kiev last year, after months left out of the team, he came on and scored an overhead kick before adding a second to defeat Liverpool. He also scored an extraordinary goal to defeat Barcelona in the 2014 Copa del Rey final, running off the pitch and back on again to get a late winner.
Zidane left a few days after that Champions League final winner. Bale, who had expressed his frustration immediately after the final, publicly stating that he would have to think about his future if things did not change, was one of the few not to publicly wish him well. He had been “angry” at his lack of opportunities throughout the spring, he admitted, and Zidane had offered no explanation. Nor had there been any congratulations after the final.
When Madrid crashed out of this year’s competition, they turned to their former manager to avert a crisis. Bale already suspected that was bad news. Since then, he has started just five of the 12 games and not played a minute in any of the last three. Some fans have turned against Bale, whistling him, a target for their frustration during a season that has ended trophyless and with Madrid 19 points behind Barcelona. Hopes that he would fill the gap left by Cristiano Ronaldo have not been met. He has stood accused of not integrating, and most accept Zidane’s decision. Yet Bale’s absence on Sunday still felt cold. Bale may be entitled to see it as vindictive.
When it was put to him that, after six years at the club, he hadn’t given Bale the opportunity to bid farewell, Zidane said: “Yes, it’s true. I didn’t do it. I didn’t, I’m sorry. When you look at it like that, it’s hard for a player. And no one will change that: he’s won lots of things here. The past won’t be forgotten but as a coach I have to live the present. I see what I see day by day.” If that sounded conciliatory it was not, and the reference to the day-to-day hinted at the Frenchman’s private complaints of a lack of commitment.
“It’s clear what I have done: I have used other players recently, and that’s clear for me. I decide who plays and then I make the changes and next year, we’ll see,” Zidane said. Asked what he would do if Bale continues, he replied: “We’ll see.” But that is not something he wants to see and Bale’s absence on Sunday was another message: leave. It was also a demonstration of Zidane’s power. “If I don’t do what I want to do in my team, I leave,” he said this weekend. There was a warning there for the club.
Zidane wants signings – Paul Pogba, Luka Jovic, Eden Hazard – and Bale’s departure is central to that. But it is not so simple, and Zidane’s power may be tested. Bale’s age, fee and salary are all high, making potential buyers reluctant, and Bale is not inclined to facilitate a solution.
Onda Cero radio reported that the Welshman had told a teammate that if Madrid want him to go, they can pay him €17m for each of the three years left on his contract and if not he can stay here and just play golf. If the tone didn’t sit well, the content is an accurate enough portrayal of his position. The reference to golf, incidentally, if indeed there was one, would perhaps be best interpreted as a dig at what he sees as the way his enthusiasm for the sport has come to be seen as a heinous crime.
Madrid’s hand has been revealed, but if they want Bale to go, they are the ones who have resolve this situation. He won’t. No one can match what Madrid pay him and he will not accept a pay cut. Something will have to give but no one is backing down yet. There have been no negotiations, nor will there be.
Bale has three years left on a contract worth over €50m and could stay, even if he risks not playing. How long he accepts that, how hard Madrid are prepared to push, remains to be seen. But as he approaches 30, there is a belief that he no longer needs to prove anything nor has an obligation to give way. As it stands, Zidane wants Bale out but he will back at the start of pre-season, ready to play. Or, more likely, not. – Guardian