The answers which reveal there will be no love lost between team-mates Bale and Ronaldo
Published 05/07/2016 | 02:30
There was a predictable line of humour heading Gareth Bale's way before he took his leave of the Bernabeu and headed off for his big adventure at the European Championships with Wales.
"I remember Toni Kroos saying we'd only have three games," Bale revealed on Monday. "So it would be nice to meet him in the final. . . "
This was a variation on a very old theme, as any long-suffering Wales player like Bale will tell you. The stick was unremitting "when we used to lose and when we were 100th in the world. 'You have nine weeks' holiday instead of two.' Just the normal stuff," he reflected with a wide grin.
These disclosures came in response to the question of whether he and Real Madrid team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, whom Bale finds himself up against in the Lyon semi-final tomorrow night, had discussed the tournament before going their separate ways in May.
The flat 'No' Bale offered in response spoke volumes for the fact that there is something less than love in their relationship.
Bale has never been the life and soul of the team in Madrid. He'll turn up at the dinner parties which are a part of the Real social circuit but generally leaves them early, with Kroos the only one who is even more peripheral to that side of life.
Spanish full-back Dani Carvajal is the one to whom Bale has most affinity. But few relationships seem as chilly as his and Ronaldo's.
This discussion certainly revealed an attachment to Real's Portuguese defender Pepe, whose thigh muscle strain makes him a doubtful for Stade de Lyon.
"He's a very professional athlete and a great man," Bale said. "He's been very good with me. It'll be a big loss but I'm sure he'll do everything he can to get fit."
Yet on Ronaldo, there was nothing. No conversation between the two of them since they'd progressed to a semi-final. An embarrassed shrug when Bale was asked by a Portuguese journalist to compare their respective free-kick styles. ("Different feet for a start. He has his own style and I have mine. I don't know what else to say.") And no suggestion that he had advised Chris Coleman how to cope with 'CR7'.
In all, Bale was asked 11 questions about his relationship with Portugal's talisman and the only one which elicited the hint of an answer was on why his Real team-mate might have recently thrown a cameraman's microphone in a lake. "I'm not sure. I can't comment on what he does or how he's feeling," Bale said. "He's got his reasons."
Bale's own state of mind is less of a mystery. It's become part of Wales's routine that two days out from a game he will sit down to talk, and conversation was by no means running dry on his fifth appearance.
He volunteered information on the team quizzes the squad undertake each day before a meal, with forfeits for the six-man team who come last, and Ben Davies the organiser.
"We won again today," he said of the latest - a picture quiz, in which they'd had to identify Premier League players with the faces blurred out. "That's six in a row now. "We're on fire!"
They are actually enjoying being here, with an air of collective mirth revolving around the fact that Joe Ledley - who evidently hadn't anticipated still being here so deep into the tournament - had planned to get married on Saturday. Had any of the team been invited? "No. None of us," Bale replied. "Well none of us are going now so it makes no difference!"
Bale certainly seemed to have more confidence that his season would not be over, come next Sunday. Behind the smiles, there has been a hard competitive intent, illustrated by his request that Real Madrid physio Jaime Benito, a confidante and friend according to Spanish media, be here at the Welsh camp to work with him.
"I had a few injuries this year and coming to a big tournament I haven't experienced it before so I wanted to make sure I was fully fit and if there was a problem I can get it fixed straight away," Bale said.
"It's been a massive help for me and even the medical staff here have probably needed it more because they didn't want to take any of the others out for so long and leave any of the other boys without treatment."
One of the striking aspects of these encounters with Wales' players and managers is the light touch of those overseeing them. A few of the tricky questions that manager Chris Coleman was asked about England on Sunday would have been closed down.
In the pompous, micro-managed style of the elite nations and Premier League clubs, there would probably have been a ban on Ronaldo questions for Bale, too.
But Bale is intelligent enough to speak for himself. Was Ronaldo, whose form has been patchy, fit enough to play?
"Yeah I don't see why not," he said. "It's not just us, for everyone it's been a long season. We have some guys who've played 64, 65 games now. As soon as you are on the pitch, all those worries go away and you just concentrate on the game."
And with that he had gone, plunging into a group of autograph hunters and posing for a dozen photographs before he was driven away. He is testament to the fact that enjoying the tournament experience enriches it.
He might well still be here on Sunday, having the last laugh on Kroos, the team-mate he can actually call a friend.
Independent News Service