Zinedine Zidane’s shock return to take charge of Real Madrid has cast major doubt over the future of Gareth Bale.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at the Wales international’s prospects.
Why is Zidane back?
Real reappointed Zinedine Zidane as head coach until June 2022 on Monday after bringing Santiago Solari’s time at the helm to an end. Zidane stepped down at the end of last season after guiding Real to three consecutive Champions League titles and was replaced by Julen Lopetegui. The former Spain manager’s ill-fated spell lasted until just October and Solari was brought in to replace him. But after a string of poor results, including back-to-back defeats to rivals Barcelona and a Champions League exit at the hands of Ajax, Real have turned to Zidane once more.
So what’s the issue?
It is no secret that Zidane and Bale did not exactly see eye to eye towards the end of the Frenchman’s previous spell in charge. In fact Bale revealed after his two goals in last season’s Champions League final triumph over Liverpool that Zidane did not even speak to him about it. Bale only started that match on the bench and was frequently left out of the starting line-up by Zidane, who reportedly wanted to sell the one-time world’s most expensive footballer. There is a distinct feeling now that Bale’s time in the Spanish capital could be up.
Where could he go?
Therein lies the problem. Bale’s sky-high wages, said to be around £650,000-a-week, price virtually every other club in the world out of the market, while his injury record and the fact he is now 29 hardly make him an appealing commodity. Certainly Real would need to supplement some of Bale’s salary to get rid, but links with former club Tottenham are unfounded as he does not fit Mauricio Pochettino’s style of play and Chelsea’s transfer ban rules out a swap deal with top target Eden Hazard. Manchester City, Manchester United or Inter Milan might be viable options, but they may not be willing to take such an expensive risk.
What do the fans think?
Bale has been jeered by the hard-to-please fans at the Bernabeu recently, seemingly made a scapegoat for the club’s struggles. The former Southampton youngster has been portrayed as a character aloof from his team-mates by an increasingly vindictive Spanish media, having apparently failed to learn to speak the language, and as someone who is more interested in playing golf – as an ill-timed tweet as the news was breaking about Zidane’s return would suggest.
Does he want to leave?
In short, no. Bale has always insisted he is happy in Madrid despite persistent links with a return to the Premier League, and from a lifestyle point of view it is hard to blame him. Whether the change of management results in a change of heart remains to be seen.
So, what next?
That, it seems, depends on Bale himself. There is always a chance he could win Zidane over, of course, while he would be perfectly entitled to sit back and count his money until his contract expires in 2022. But given his undoubted talent that would be a huge waste. Bale is arguably the most successful British football export in history, scoring 101 goals in 223 appearances and winning 13 major honours including four Champions League titles. Swapping Madrid for Manchester or Milan might just reignite the spark.