MADRID • New Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has confirmed that the Spanish football club's star Gareth Bale is upset over Rafael Benitez's sacking but has reassured the Welsh winger that he will remain a key player at the Bernabeu.
Bale joined Real 21/2 years ago for a world record transfer fee and has struggled at times in the Spanish capital. But the 26-year-old has thrived under Benitez, who handed him a central role.
The news of the Spaniard's sacking on Monday was immediately met by fresh British media reports of Bale's potential summer move to Manchester United.
According to the Daily Mail yesterday, however, United want the forward in this transfer window and are prepared to make a £75 million (S$157 million) bid this month.
Bale's long-time suitors believe that they have a trump card in Ryan Giggs, the United assistant manager.
He's phenomenal... I am going to give him all my affection and support so that he plays well for us.
ZINEDINE ZIDANE, Real Madrid interim manager, on why Gareth Bale is important for the side
Giggs, expected to succeed manager Louis van Gaal when the Dutchman steps down, is one of Bale's boyhood idols and has been tipped to be a key figure in attracting his fellow Welshman to Old Trafford.
Bale's future at Real is understood to hinge largely on how Zidane deploys him between now and the end of the season, and specifically whether he remains in a central role.
Bale, who has scored seven times in his past six appearances, wants to be used in a position where he can have the greatest influence on the game and any significant change to that approach under Zidane would have major ramifications for him.
Zidane gave strong backing to Bale on Tuesday: "I understand he can be annoyed with the departure of Benitez because (Benitez) was an important coach for him but he is going to have the same affection (from me) as with Rafa.
"He is important for the squad, fundamental for the team. He's phenomenal and what he has been doing recently is fantastic.
"I am going to give him all my affection and support so that he plays well for us."
Zidane was emphatic that he intends to play Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
"Yes, I will play with the three. Yes. The idea is that. Clearly."
Benitez was shown the door after just seven months, in part because of his perceived defensive tactics.
But the 55-year-old said he harbours no ill-feeling, saying it was "an honour and privilege" to lead the club he has always supported.
"I would like to use this article to say goodbye to everyone at every level of the club," Benitez, who began his coaching career in Real's youth ranks, said on his website on Tuesday.
"I want everyone at the club from the board of directors, executives, workers and all of the fans to know it has been an honour and privilege to be in charge at this club where I grew up as a person, player and coach.
"As a 'Madridista', steeped in the traditions and values of this institution, which I learnt in the old sports city of Castellana, it has been an honour to work for these colours. I would especially like to thank everyone at the new sports city and the Bernabeu who since my first steps through the door have supported me and made my work easier. Thanks to all for helping."
Real are third in La Liga, four points behind leaders Atletico Madrid and two behind champions Barcelona, who have a game in hand.
Real's next play at home against Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga on Saturday and they meet AS Roma in the first leg of their Champions League first knockout round tie on Feb 17.
"I would like to wish good luck to Zinedine Zidane and his staff," said Benitez who has also had stints in charge of Liverpool, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Valencia and Napoli. "To all the players, coaches and staff... I wish all the best and also good luck."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS