Gareth Bale’s Fallout With Zinedine Zidane

Bale’s exclusion from the squad prompted Zidane to loan him to Tottenham Hotspur for the upcoming season. Spanish news reports enjoy fabricating the feud between the two, but the more important story is what caused the clash in the first place?

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Gareth Bale was loaned to Tottenham Hotspur from Real Madrid. While this may seem like a standard transaction, this move is a reflection of issues running much deeper than just the transfer fee. Conflict between Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and manager Zinedine Zidane has been apparent in the media for years. With Bale’s frequent inconsistencies since Zidane’s appointment in January 2016, Bale struggled to establish himself in the starting 11. The Welshman’s frustrations grew more public after he failed to start in two consecutive Champions League finals. Last season, Bale only played 20 matches for Real Madrid, with three goals and two assists in all competitions. Bale’s exclusion from the squad prompted Zidane to loan him to Tottenham Hotspur for the upcoming season. Spanish news reports enjoy fabricating the feud between the two, but the more important story is what caused the clash in the first place.

Gareth Bale and Zinedine Zidane have been a part of the same organization since 2014. Already a Real Madrid legend during his time at the club as a player, Zidane managed the reserve team for two years. Manager Rafael Benitez was fired in 2016 due to Madrid’s struggle for a top finish, and Zidane was placed in charge of the first team. People doubted Zidane’s tactical understanding, but the Frenchman guided Los Blancos to second place. During the remaining part of the 2015-16 season, Bale struggled with a muscle and a disrupted calf injury, which saw him in and out of the squad. However, Zidane still retained his confidence in Bale. He was a crucial player during the semi-finals and final of the 2016 Champions League which Real Madrid won in a penalty shootout.

During the 2016-17 season, Bale’s problem with injuries grew substantially. He suffered a hip and ankle injury, which sidelined him for four months, and he picked up a calf injury in April that ruled him out for almost the entire season. Because of Bale’s recurring injury problems, Zidane gave other players a chance, and the outcome generally worked out well. I think that Zidane should’ve recognized Bale's insistence to play and helped him mentally recover from his injury problems. However, Zidane only focused on the squad that was playing, which was detrimental to Bale’s development. Bale played a few minutes of the Champions League, coming on for the last 13 minutes in Madrid’s 3-1 win over Juventus in the final. Real Madrid also won the La Liga title, though Bale was not a pivotal player to their success.

In the 2017-18 season, Bale slowly improved. However, Zidane was aware of his injury problem and opted for players Isco and Marco Asensio to play his role. Bale was used as a rotational player, a backup for first team players. In my opinion, Zidane should’ve given Bale the option to find a new club or stay at Real Madrid, as Bale still had many years left in his professional career. If Bale had stayed at Real Madrid, he would have only found time on the bench, as Zidane didn’t want to start him. Bale suffered another injury in his calf and hamstrings and was sidelined for three months. Additionally, he played very few Champions League minutes and sat on the bench for some matches. People began to question if Bale and Zidane were on bad terms, but both insisted that their relationship was fine. Bale was crucial in Madrid’s win over Liverpool in the CL Final, where he came off the bench to score two goals to win the game. Even with his injury during the season, he scored 21 goals and made seven assists in 39 matches.

It was at this point that many questioned Zidane’s decision to place Bale on the bench instead of the starting 11. However, their questions were not answered, as Zidane resigned from his managerial position, referencing the club’s need for change as the reason. Bale found himself back on the team again, but many noticed he wasn’t the same goal-scoring pace machine that he used to be. Real Madrid was also in a crisis, with two managers sacked seven months into the season and knocked out of the Champions League. As a result, Zidane returned as manager, and Gareth Bale’s exclusion from the squad became imminent. Bale was immediately dropped to the bench by Zidane, playing very few minutes in La Liga. Real Madrid ended the season in third place, 19 points behind Barcelona.

The 2019-20 season might have been Bale’s last season at Real Madrid. With Zidane purchasing talented young attacking prospects, it was apparent that Bale’s tenure at the club was close to an end. Bale was very close to leaving in search of game time, but the club refused the transfer offer, angering him. Bale suffered from calf and ankle problems during the first half of the season, and he found himself warming up the bench. He sparked controversy in a national team match during Wales’ 2-0 win over Hungary in November. After helping his team qualify for the Euro 2020s, he held up a flag of Wales that read “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order,” which angered many Real Madrid fans. In the second half of the season, Zidane permanently kept him on the bench in most matches, and it appeared that Bale had no interest to play. Many of the Los Blancos’ fans wanted him out of the club after he skipped training for upcoming matches to play golf.

Many pundits suggested that Bale should go back to his former club—Tottenham Hotspur—and Zidane agreed to a deal with the London club on a season-long loan. It is common knowledge by now that Zidane and Bale have a complicated relationship. I believe that Zidane was upset by Bale's injury problems, and he required a more reliable winger to help Madrid establish dominance on the European stage. As for Bale, he might’ve been angry at Zidane for excluding him from the squad and believed that he still had the ability to help the team. I think the loan deal benefited both parties: Bale would have more time to play to improve his game and Zidane would experiment with other players to see if he required Bale in the squad. Only time will tell what’s in store for Bale’s future with the club and Zinedine Zidane, but it seems highly unlikely that either player or manager wishes to play with each other ever again.