Real Madrid all-but secured their place in the semi-finals of the Champions League with a 3-0 victory over Juventus in Turin in a game that also confirmed Gareth Bale’s slide down the pecking order under Zinedine Zidane.
Tuesday’s match marked the first time that the Wales forward, when fit, failed to play a single minute of a Champions League match since his arrival at the Bernabéu in 2013. Bale was on the bench in Turin but forced to watch on as Lucas Vázquez, Marco Asensio and Mateo Kovacic were all called on by Zidane. When Cristiano Ronaldo scored the goal that would make the headlines the following morning and the Madrid bench erupted, television cameras picked up the Welshman sitting stony faced behind his coach.
It could be said that February 14 was the day that Zidane fell out of love with Bale. On the day, the winger was among the substitutes when PSG visited the Bernabéu and was only handed 22 minutes of the eventual 3-1 victory. At the end of the game, Bale was the only player who did not remain on the pitch to applaud the home support. Sergio Ramos was seen urging him to stay but Bale stalked straight down the tunnel.
Bale's Champions League exile points to summer move
During the knock-out stages of this year’s Champions League, Bale has featured for just 36 minutes of the double-header against PSG and Tuesday’s match in Turin. Those 22 minutes in the Bernabéu that visibly angered the Welshman represented the high water-mark: he played 14 minutes in the Parc des Princes and didn’t get off the bench in Italy. Zidane still makes plenty of use of his winger in the league, but that is hardly a huge ego-massager for Bale given that Real have no realistic chance of winning the competition and the Frenchman tends to use those games to rest key players for the Champions League, Madrid’s last tangible chance of success and the competition most valued within the club.
Last summer, Zidane was not opposed to the idea of selling Bale to make room for Kylian Mbappé. But Bale elected to stay in Madrid despite interest from Manchester United. The relationship between the two has been gradually eroded this season and even after Bale’s double helped the side to victory against Las Palmas last weekend, Zidane restricted his praise to a terse: “I’m happy for him and that’s it.”
After the game against Juventus, Zidane was asked if Bale is now considered behind Vázquez and Asensio in the natural order of things at the Bernabéu: “No,” the Frenchman replied. “He didn’t get on the pitch but that was because others did with different jobs to do. But we’re still counting on Gareth. We have another game on Sunday and he needs to be ready.”
That game is the Madrid derby against Atlético, and Zidane’s team sheet will be instructive. But whatever the rest of the season brings, it looks increasingly likely that Bale and Madrid are set for a parting of ways in the summer with Florentino Pérez planning a major overhaul of the squad.