The feature on Zinedine Zidane not being happy with Gareth Bale's extended absence caught my eye on Tuesday. Marca reported that the French coach was said to be unhappy with the fact that Gareth suffered a recurrence of injury, and also that he's disappointed with the situation since he's been expecting him to return to the team for some time now. Although not saying as much in public, the intonation was such that Zidane wasn't impressed with the suggestions that Gareth wasn't too far off being fully fit; only for his return to be delayed yet again and thus creating further disappointment.
When it comes to dealing with injured players there can't be much worse for a manager / head coach than to be expecting somebody to return from injury, only to be told later that it's unlikely to happen for a considerable amount of time. This tends to happen with the longer term injured players whose recovery might not be as obvious on a daily basis due to the often slower healing times of chronic injuries or conditions. Looking at the situation over the last couple of weeks with Marcelo for example, his progress would have been obvious due to the ever-increasing range of shoulder movement that would be present on a daily basis together with a gradual reduction in pain levels. Where the longer term injured players are concerned (such as Gareth Bale or Pepe), it can be a bit more difficult to accurately predict a return date. If this date can't be estimated with any degree of accuracy then it's far better for the medical staff to say so and everybody knows where they stand.
At Valdebebas, when Zinedine Zidane comes in every morning, one of the first things he's going to want to know from the medical team is who isn't going to be training that day and why. From a manager's aspect, the response to those questions ideally needs to include a timeline; or at least a rough estimate of how long recovery is likely to take and whether it's going in the right direction or not. The expression "good progress" is never really an acceptable answer without being more specific; although it's well known that predicted recovery times for chronic injuries like that currently troubling Gareth Bale are notoriously difficult to estimate.
In general, the injured players will work away from the fully-fit squads but there may be times during the day when the injured group will be working in close proximity to the regular squad. It's at this point when the physios' work is going to be observed by Zidane et al and this is when he's likely to be looking more closely at what they're doing. Although he's maybe not going to be able to see any subtle progress on a day to day basis, he'll certainly be able to see Gareth Bale going through his exercises and building up his running.
This is often where players and coaches tend to get their wires crossed. If someone who has been out for a while is seen to be running then it's almost as if a landmark in rehab has been reached. "Gareth's been running this morning; he shouldn't be out for much longer" is a typical example of a comment likely heard. The problem arises when it's a personal opinion that's reported as opposed to the hard facts and the media then get a hold of that information. Once that happens it doesn't take long for the story to be considerably embellished and people start trying to second-guess when Gareth's return date is likely to be. Word feeds back to Zidane that he's on the mend and the whole thing spirals out of control unless the medical team updates everyone concerned about the true picture.
It's also vitally important that they don't try to soften the blow and make him aware if the actual recovery process isn't going as well as it should. In a society often obsessed with finding someone to blame, a slow recovery or even a recurrence can just be a simple fact of life associated with a particular injury rather than being anybody's fault.
I'm sure that Zidane won't be impressed that Gareth's still injured but his reported anger is likely to be directed at the situation in general rather than the individuals involved. He's not going to be happy that Gareth's out of action, but with this being the latest in a succession of injuries involving the same calf muscle, he'll be happier if the medical team are working to address the underlying cause of the injury rather than just treating the symptoms.
From a player-management aspect there always needs to be a positive emphasis to rehab as opposed to dwelling on the negatives, and the physio team will be concentrating on highlighting progressions in his schedule. This doesn't necessarily correlate to meaning an early return is on the cards, only that the positives are being emphasised. However, maybe Zidane's been given the impression that Gareth is doing better than he actually is. Given that Gareth Bale has a long history of calf muscle injuries, this was always going to be a long absence for him and the need to identify potential causes of these injuries has never been more highlighted. Zidane is likely to take the view that addressing the reasons for Gareth's recurrent injury in the long term will be more important than just getting him back to the team in the short-term.
There was that period not too long ago when everyone was saying how well Gareth was doing, running and jumping in sandpits etc, and maybe his calf started to react to the intensity of the rehab levels at that time. The important thing for any medical team is to react to any potential set-backs by easing up on the intensity of the work load, and by all accounts that's what the Madrid medical team actually did by taking a step or two backwards before trying to go forward once again. Unfortunately, setbacks in injury rehab can and do happen; particularly when working at the intensity that Real Madrid players will be working at. The important thing is to manage the setbacks as well.