Now the dust is beginning to settle after what has been has been a contrasting week for Real Madrid and the club sits in pole position in La Liga, those who played in the victory over Celta Vigo are reported to have been given a couple of days off by coach Rafa Benitez. This will allow the players a well-needed break; and despite the controversies over who is fit and who isn't, Real Madrid are once again the league leaders. The break also gives Rafa et al time to sit back and take stock of who is likely to be fit for the visit of Las Palmas to the Bernabeu next Saturday. Sadly, injuries are once again going to be the focus for the next few days.
On that note, however, I can't help thinking that Gareth Bale has been hung out to dry. Since being replaced against Levante a week ago with a recurrence of a calf strain, he's virtually been voted public enemy number one. Both club and country have been conspicuous by their silence apart from the usual medical report on Real's website and a comment from the Wales coach Chris Coleman saying that Madrid didn't ask for Gareth to be left out against Andorra. There's been no official statement from either party over Gareth's appearance or injury. Yet, following a game in which Wales celebrated their qualification for the Euro 16 finals, others in football not connected to Real Madrid have managed to have their say on the matter.
Arsene Wenger is the latest manager to hit out at the international competitions leading to club injuries, commenting that in games where there is nothing at stake clubs and countries need to engage more in discussions about who should and shouldn't be selected; especially if they're carrying or are recovering from a recent injury. Wenger was critical of Chris Coleman for playing Aaron Ramsey against Andorra and he also referred to Gareth Bale's inclusion in the game. The Andorra match turned out to be a night in which the Welsh players took a few hefty knocks; particularly in the opening minutes and for a time it didn't look like a game that was simply being played out to complete the group fixtures.
Since coming off against Levante, though, Gareth Bale has been given a hard time over his appearance against Andorra, especially after missing the Real Madrid games against PSG and Celta. The media have had a field day over it. El Chiringuito even had a physiotherapist giving a presentation on Gareth's calf injury and commenting on the number of times this injury has flared up. AS Sports then presented statistics analysing the number of games Madrid have won with and without Gareth Bale in the team, and his agent Jonathan Barnett has also been in the press discussing alleged difficulties in the relationship between Gareth and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The agent's comments were the first thing Gareth had to address on his return from the Andorra game; and at that time he was actually fit and available for selection for Real Madrid. Like most players coming back from international duty, Gareth eased himself into club training for a couple of days afterwards; but having started the game against Levante, he was then withdrawn with what was initially thought to be cramp. As we all know, it's been widely reported since then that this transpired to be yet another injury to the same calf muscle that had troubled him previously.
It's easy for us all to be wise after the event but players need a bit of guidance in these matters. Gareth will have been assessed by two sets of medical teams and as long as he's saying he's fit then both Rafa Benitez and Chris Coleman are going to take that as an indication that there's nothing to be concerned about. He'll have been closely monitored in training and any doubts over his fitness will hopefully have been highlighted and discussed with him long before he turned out against Levante. As commented on recently, players just don't expect to get injured and it's the responsibility of those involved on the medical and fitness side to make players aware that these recurrences can easily happen.
Although players carrying a niggling injury are often prone to reassuring everyone that they'll be fine, that isn't always be the case. We're forever reading that players defy medical opinion to play and although this is a practice often condoned by club managers, it's hardly going to happen in an international where nothing is stake. You would have thought that the Welsh medical people would have pulled him out against Andorra if there had been any concerns beforehand.
Often players will assure the staff that they are fine when they really have a nagging doubt over a niggle that won't clear up. That's when everyone needs to be open and acknowledge that the odds of making the injury worse by playing become significantly increased. Madrid were quick enough to take Gareth off against Levante when it appeared that his calf was giving him cause for concern and it might have been a lot worse if he'd been left to play on. He would then be facing an even longer period out of the team than he faces at the moment. Playing on through a bout of cramp can often have the effect of turning already tight muscles into a proper strain so it's just as well he didn't try to play on for longer. Clearly Madrid were right to take him out of the game when they did. I just don't think anybody was prepared for the reaction that followed.
Playing for his country obviously means a great deal to Gareth Bale. On reflection, the best thing for everyone would have been to let him make a token appearance against Andorra and then come to the sidelines. Aware that he'd been having intermittent problems with his calf muscles, that would have been the sensible decision for the Welsh management to make, particularly if Gareth had been feeling that the injury was limiting him at the time. However, it's easy to criticise from the cheap seats, and by all accounts there were no indications that he was having any difficulty on the night.
Gareth Bale has likely been a victim of his own enthusiasm coupled with national pride as opposed to openly disregarding the club who pay his salary. Neither was he the only one to miss important fixtures after playing for his country; Karim Benzema still remains unavailable while we wait to see whether Luka Modric suffers any adverse effects to his injury after playing at Celta. Madrid's injured players won't be having the next couple of days off that's for sure; and there'll be plenty of time to reflect on decisions made over the last ten days. The important thing is to ensure that no lingering doubts remain over Gareth's fitness when he finally returns to the team.