Like a little boy who falls and skins his knee, only to get a telling off from his parents instead of any sympathy, Gareth Bale’s popularity took another dip last week with the news that he’ll be out injured for another three weeks. As a result, he’ll miss a crucial stage of the season, which includes both legs of Real Madrid’s Champions League semi-final against Atlético Madrid. Not to mention the fact that his injury cost Real Madrid a potentially useful substitution in their 3-2 Clásico defeat.
Yet not everyone in Madrid sees the injury as the culprit; instead some are upset with the man suffering from it. Some feel he admirably, but selfishly, rushed back too soon from his four-month ankle tendon injury even though Zinedine Zidane suggested otherwise in his first press conference after the Clásico. “He was 100 percent fit and in both training sessions he trained normally,” the Frenchman explained to reporters. “Then the injury happened, which is something that can’t be avoided. When you’ve had a long-term injury, it is difficult when you come back. There can be other pains.”
In a way, as illogical as the anger of these Real Madrid fans and journalists is, it is understandable. Since touching down in the Spanish capital from Tottenham in the summer of 2013, Bale has been on Los Blancos’ injury list on 17 separate occasions, missing 90 matches and counting. Given that his price tag approached €100m, Real Madrid clearly haven’t gotten the best value for their buck and some are now wondering whether it is in the club’s best interests to keep him. While the sensible analysis will discard his transfer fee as a sunk cost, it is also true that the Welshman is the second-highest earner in the squad and, on average, Real Madrid are only getting two thirds of a season out of him.
The fact that eight of his injuries have been related to his calves prove that his woes are more than just bad luck and there seems to be an underlying problem which the club’s medical staff simply cannot fix. Whereas Lionel Messi similarly suffered injury niggle after injury niggle at the beginning of his career before finally staying healthy once on the right fitness plan, nothing seems to be working for Real Madrid’s No.11.
That is why his future is becoming increasingly uncertain. As much as he is believed to be a favourite of club president Florentino Pérez – who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – there will come a point when it no longer makes financial or sporting sense to keep Bale in the squad. As good as he has been when fully fit, as he was at the start of this season when he may just have been Los Blancos’ best player, it would be more economical to sign a slightly less talented player, but one who can be relied upon. The best ability is availability, as they say.
From a sporting point of view, it would also surely assist Zinedine Zidane and future Real Madrid coaches if they can develop some consistency in their starting lineup. Bale may have performed exceptionally when fully fit, but the fact that his understudies have improved so much means that there is no longer quite as large a drop-off in talent when he’s watching on from the sidelines. Isco has become a fan favourite in 2017 and is set to renew his Real Madrid vows with a contract extension to 2022, while21-year-old Marco Asensio has shown he is the real deal and is set for an increased role next season, potentially wearing the likely-to-be-departing James Rodríguez’s symbolic No.10 shirt. An uncharacteristic Bale red card in a recent – and potentially title-costing – draw with Las Palmas raised further questions about how much better Real Madrid really are with the Welshman starting ahead of his Spanish counterparts.
There seems, therefore, to be a chance that Real Madrid could call time on the Bale project, especially if the riches of the Premier League come calling. With the player having repeatedly insisted he is content in Madrid and determined to stay, whether or not Bale would want to return to the UK is another question altogether.