The Welshman joins a long list of iconic players to be shown the exit door under acrimonious circumstances at Santiago Bernabeu
Zinedine Zidane’s comments about Gareth Bale were remarkable but by this point we should no longer be surprised.
Real Madrid legends leave the club amid storm clouds time and time again and Bale has been set to be the latest to depart the Santiago Bernabeu through the back door.
“We hope he leaves soon. It would be best for everyone,” said Zidane on Sunday. “I have nothing personal against him, but there comes a time where things are done because they must be done.”
The comments marked the end of the cold war between Bale and Real Madrid and the first shots fired in the open.
They are astounding words for Zidane to speak when Bale’s overall impact at Madrid has been considered – even if the club believe now it has been time for him to leave.
When able to play Bale has been productive, with 102 goals in 231 games, adding 65 assists.
More importantly than the raw statistics though, he has delivered on the biggest occasions for Madrid, including in four Champions League finals, to help Los Blancos win the trophy they crave most.
The forward headed home in extra time to net the goal which sent Real ahead against rivals Atletico Madrid in their eventual 4-1 Champions League final victory in 2014.
That came after scoring a stunning individual goal against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey Clasico final to win Madrid that trophy.
In the 2016 Champions League final against Atletico, Bale set up Sergio Ramos for Madrid’s goal in a 1-1 draw and converted in the penalty shoot out as Real triumphed again.
He would have loved to feature in Cardiff too but didn’t recover from injury in time to start the 2017 final against Juventus which Madrid won 4-1, instead appearing as a substitute.
Thrown on from the bench in the 61st minute of the 2018 final in Kiev against Liverpool with the score tied at 1-1, Bale struck twice – with his scissor kick arguably the best ever Champions League final goal ever scored – inspiring Madrid to a 3-1 victory.
Of course there have been ups and downs with Bale, with his detractors wielding his perceived failures against him.
Bale’s struggles with the language and Spanish culture – including snubbing a team-meal because he wanted to stick to his bed-time – were highlighted by the media.
In captain Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid fans see someone who stands for them. Bale’s standoffishness sometimes translates as a lack of passion for the team’s cause.
The 30-year-old’s persistent injury problems didn’t help either, feeding the image that he could not be relied upon.
But none of these reasons are strong enough for Zidane or the fans to treat Bale as harshly as they do, given what Bale has done for the club.
These are areas which Bale could have done better in but not enough for his relationship with Madrid to sour completely.
It has been not only the Welshman who has suffered at the Santiago Bernabeu. Other club legends have also been spat out – it almost seems like tradition at Madrid that their best players depart in acrimony.
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas left in tears, sitting alone on a stage as he gave his farewell press conference in 2015, no club presence alongside him.
His parents blamed president Florentino Perez for Casillas’s departure, even claiming they would prefer to see him play for Barcelona, “because they are gentlemen” rather than Porto.
Casillas joined Madrid’s academy at nine years old, going on to captain the team and playing for the first team for 16 years.
But in an ugly denouement to his career at the Bernabeu he fell out with Jose Mourinho and was labelled a ‘mole’ by some fans, who backed the coach over the soccer professional, tainting the relationship for good.
Even Cristiano Ronaldo, the club’s finest ever soccer professional, was whistled by Madrid’s supporters at times and seemed to be at war with Perez for years before he left for Juventus in 2018.
Ronaldo later blamed Perez for his departure, claiming the president no longer saw him as ‘indispensable’.
In his final season at Madrid, David Beckham was left out when coach Fabio Capello claimed he would never wear the shirt again, although the Italian later relented.
Even legendary striker Raul Gonzalez left in unfortunate circumstances, with some sectors of the crowd whistling him for not hitting his previous heights. Despite his status, he left the club he had hoped to retire at without fanfare, later saying his send-off “could have been better”.
Other heroes like Alfredo Di Stefano and Zidane himself have felt ire from supporters in the past, adding to the strangeness of the club’s relationship with their most loved players.
As well as ego clashes with the president, part of it comes from being so successful for so long.
Players come and go, but the club keeps winning. Anybody who seems bigger than the club itself gets cut down to size.
And in a team where there have been, over the past two decades, so many changes to the coaching staff and the squad, it creates a feeling of disposability.
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The Galacticos era has been another factor, with it seeming like if one star left, another would arrive to replace them, meaning it was less important for the fans to show their key men how much they are adored.
Madrid as a club have an almost ingrained arrogance, which on the one hand makes them special, and on the other leaves them in bizarre positions that no other sides experience. Bale has been the latest to feel the brunt of it.
Decades down the line, some may look back and regret not treating the Welshman with a little more respect.