After discussion of James Rodriguez’s and Gareth Bale’s futures at Madrid had died down a bit, calm has been replaced by controversy. After the recent international break, James finds himself injured after training with Columbia and Bale is suddenly in deep water with Madrid fans over questions about his dedication to the club. In spite of this, Zidane has continued to support his players. In an effort to understand what has gone wrong, it might be important to look at the build-up to this international break.
Several weeks prior, both James and Bale failed to make it onto Madrid’s team sheet, even as subs, presumably due to injuries. It was surprising then, that they were both called up by their respective national sides. In the midst of this confusion, Zidane publicly admitted, “They’re not injured... They’re still not training with the group, though, so they’re unable to play.” He went on to explain, “I don’t decide [whether they train with the squad], they do. They’re still not ready.”
This statement made it seem as though the players were still feeling some discomfort or did not feel the need to rush back into things. While it seems plausible that Bale had decided to continue training alone of his own accord, especially considering the rumours of his ‘low tolerance for pain’, it is unlikely that James also followed suit. Rather, Zidane’s calmness throughout the process, in spite of their readiness to play for their respective national sides, suggests he was well aware of the real reasons for James’s and Bale’s absence. Some evidence suggests that Madrid’s coaching staff and administration were behind it even.
It is not typical for Madrid to be silent about the injuries that surround its players. Usually, injuries are followed up with official statements that describe or at least confirm the injury, albeit without much detail. While reports of Bale telling the team not to publish any medical records, citing patient-doctor confidentiality do make sense, they are unprecedented. The use of unconvincing medical reports to refute unwanted media attention on the other hand had been documented earlier in the season. After conceding two goals, Thibaut Courtois was substituted against Club Brugge, reportedly due to anxiety issues. This seemed to also account for Courtois’ unusually poor performances up to that point in the season. In this case, the club quickly came out and issued a statement denying any anxiety attacks, instead blaming gastroenteritis for his substitution.
Over the years, Bale’s time at Madrid has been anything but straightforward, but James’s involvement in the mix adds to the unlikeliness that the lack of playing and training time was just a simple injury, especially when one considers that both James and Bale were recently reported to have left the stadium during at least one Madrid game about 10 minutes early. As such, Zidane could be trying to cover up that James’s and Bale’s absence has been a disciplinary issue rather than a fitness one. Granted, Zidane has come to both players’ defense when questioned about just that, citing that their early departures did not go against any club policies or show any disrespect.
Nonetheless, in light of recent leaks about Madrid’s policies and punishments, Zidane may simply be trying to keep information within the Madrid camp. He was visibly upset after a list of club fines were published in the press in early October, explaining that such information should remain within the confines of the club. While Bale had been punished for arriving late for a game around that time, according to those rules, both him and James would be in the clear since they left after the 80th minute of the game.
Still, it would not be surprising if the rules have been changed since that leak. Of course, the possibility of an unrelated incident being the cause for punishment remains — perhaps a rift or other issue leading to James and Bale training separately from the rest of the squad.
Such an issue leading to Bale being forced out of the squad, even in training, would certainly explain the sudden revival of rumours about Bale’s departure to China — rumours Zidane was quick to dismiss in hopes that Bale would remain until the end of the season at least. In fact, it’s Zidane’s reactions to all this which have made it impossible to deduce anything for certain. Bale’s displeasure with Madrid, perhaps due to being punished, would explain his recent decision to voice his preference for playing with his national side.
However, Zidane’s continued support for Bale, playing him in Madrid’s most recent game and telling Madrid fans to have Bale’s back seem an unusual stance from a coach who, not too long ago, voiced his desire for Bale to find a new club.