Bale's resurgence hard to ignore for Zidane ahead of final

MADRID • Gareth Bale's relationship with Zinedine Zidane will reach a crossroads when Real Madrid play Liverpool in the Champions League final on Saturday.

The pair have not seen eye to eye since the Frenchman jettisoned the Wales forward for Real's last-16 first-leg game at home to Paris Saint-Germain in February.

With their Spanish LaLiga challenge all but over, Zidane's reputation hinged on a run in Europe and dropping Bale delivered a resounding message about a lack of trust when it mattered most. But breaking point arrived last month in the quarter-final second-leg tie at home to Juventus.

Bale had scored three goals in his previous three games and he was rewarded with a start at the Santiago Bernabeu. Zidane, however, hauled him off at half-time, with Real trailing Juventus 2-0.

"It was not to punish Gareth, but something had to change," Zidane said after the match. "I was not happy with the approach."

Bale felt harshly treated, he became noticeably down around the squad and his intensity dropped in training. Sources told AFP that Bale and Zidane were barely on speaking terms around this period.

And by the time he had been overlooked for both semi-final legs against Bayern Munich, the 28-year-old had started only one of his last five matches.

"It is always going to happen in a side like ours," Zidane then said of Bale's bench role. "There are players in good form and in the team, who are playing well."

If that was the lowest point, there has been an upturn in recent weeks, in both Bale's form and his connection with Zidane.

A brilliant goal against Barcelona provided a spark, followed by two more goals and a Man-of-the-Match display against Celta Vigo.

Bale, who also scored against Villarreal last Saturday to make it five goals in his last four starts, knows the final against Liverpool this weekend represents an acid test.

The expectation in recent weeks had been that he would again give way to less spectacular but more defensively sound team-mates like Lucas Vazquez yet his latest surge will be difficult to ignore.

Even in an interview with Real Madrid TV on Tuesday, Bale pointedly said when asked about his form: "I feel like I've been in good form for a while."

Sources have told AFP that Bale's first choice this summer is to resist offers from England and stay put. But his persistence has its limits.

If Zidane rejuvenates Bale for Real's biggest game of the season, it would continue the upward momentum and create the possibility for a fresh start next season.

If he disregards Bale's form in Kiev and leaves him on the bench, reconciliation becomes distinctly unlikely, and Zidane is aware of the selection conundrum ahead of him.

"He is playing very well, he has scored many goals recently," the 45-year-old said on Tuesday. "Not only that but he has been very consistent. He has not played so much but he has played well in the last three games."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2018, with the headline 'Bale's resurgence hard to ignore for Zidane ahead of final'. Print Edition | Subscribe