Next Sunday marks exactly a year since Gareth Bale scored probably the greatest goal in the history of Champions League finals.
If his stunning volley from Marcelo’s cross has a rival in the best-ever stakes then it would be Zinedine Zidane’s goal in 2002 from Roberto Carlos’ assist.
The two men were not on speaking terms last May and in 12 months nothing has changed. That much was clear on Sunday when Bale was left out of Real Madrid’s final game of the season and Zidane all but admitted he believes the Welshman is now part of the club’s past, but that he cannot be sure he will be sold this summer.
It’s an ugly stalemate that is likely to run and run. Asked about strategy going forward, Bale’s camp say the player will now go and enjoy his holiday.
There really is no strategy beyond that, from his point of view there does not need to be. He has three years left on his 17m euros contract and all the time there is not another club offering him the same deal he has no intention of leaving Real Madrid.
Real Madrid don’t have a strategy either. They thought they did. They believed a Premier League club would ride to their rescue with 100m euros, take Bale off their hands and so finance their squad rebuilding. But there have been zero offers.
Even the idea of sending him out on loan and paying half of his wages so far has no takers. Nor would it make much sense for Madrid to pay Bale 8.5m euros to score goals for someone else.
Zidane’s fall-out with Bale began in the build-up to last season’s Champions League final. He scored five goals in the last four games of the season including one against Barcelona and he believed it was enough to merit a starting place in the game against Liverpool in Kiev.
A season early he had also started the final on the bench but had done so without complaint because he felt he was still not 100 percent after injury and others were playing well in his place. This time it was different and he was fuming.
With that rage an extra motivation factor Bale climbed off the bench against Liverpool scoring twice to win a third straight European Cup for coach Zidane but there was no peace made.
Bale – perhaps prompted by Cristiano Ronald’s post-match interview in which he hinted that he would now leave the club – told reporters that he would consider his future if he was not in the starting line-up.
Bale was practically the only player not to send a message of thanks and good luck to Zidane when he departed in the summer and he welcomed new coach Julen Lopetegui. Bale has even been cited as one of the reasons Zidane left. The coach felt despite the goals in the final he should be sold.
After Lopetegui, and then Santiago Solari, came and went as Madrid coaches, Zidane returned to the club and there has been no olive branch, no desire to bury the hatchet.
Bale was called into Zidane’s office at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground and told to his face that he was not in the coach’s plans for next season. Bale knew the meeting was coming and he certainly knew how Zidane felt about him. The exchange was brief, frosty and Bale was left in little doubt that he had played his last game of the season.
Sure enough he did not make the squad in the next game and although he was on the bench at the weekend with Spanish media claiming he ‘wanted’ to say goodbye to supporters, there was neither the desire to bid farewell nor any expectation Zidane would put him on.
Three changes were made but it was Marco Asensio, Isco and Lucas Vazquez who came on while Bale remained on the bench in a tracksuit and coat.
He didn’t look too bothered by the situation. He could be seen joking at one point with Toni Kroos who was sat behind him in the dug-out. Kroos has been given a one-year extension to his deal on Monday – an odd decision in view of Zidane’s lack of faith in him since his return.
On the final whistle Bale said hello to Marcos Alvarez who he knows from his Tottenham days. There was an embrace for the current Betis fitness coach and he disappeared down the tunnel. There was no walking out with team-mates to the centre circle to thank fans for their support. Why would there be? Bale’s relationship with those spectators – who by the way whistled the Madrid players as they applauded them from the centre-circle – has also hit a new low this season.
Bale pushed away team-mate Lucas Vazquez after scoring against Levante earlier this season. And he was in hot water for a rude gesture after scoring away at Atletico Madrid. On both occasions the anger was really for the Real Madrid supporters, not for Lucas nor for the Atletico Madrid spectators.
Bale could not believe Madrid fans had whistled him in previous weeks after he returned from injury in a game against Espanyol and scored with almost his first touch as a substitute.
Perhaps with any other player all this would be unbearable. But Bale has a very singular mentality and a very thick skin. As far as he is concerned if the club wanted him out they should not have renewed him until 2022 on 17m euros a season.
He is off on holiday now. And if Zidane and Madrid cannot find a team to take him for 17m euros (£15m) a season plus a transfer fee then he will be back on July 6 for pre-season training and he will be off to North America with a disgruntled Zidane and the rest of the squad.