Carlo Ancelotti will attempt to repel Manchester United’s interest in Gareth Bale and fight to keep the out‑of-form winger at Real Madrid if the Italian remains in charge at the Bernabéu this summer.
Bale is facing the biggest challenge of his Real career after being subjected to scathing criticism in the Spanish media following his performance in the Champions League semi-final first-leg defeat against Juventus in Turin on Tuesday.
AS, the influential sports daily, gave Bale – and four Real team-mates – 0 out of 10 in their match ratings on Wednesday morning, with the winger awarded 1 out of 10 by Mundo Deportivo.
Bale, who was accused of “always taking the easy option” and leaving Real with “10 men” by the former United captain Roy Keane following the 2-1 defeat, started his first game in almost a month in the Juventus Stadium after being sidelined in recent weeks with a calf injury.
Despite Keane’s withering condemnation of the Wales international and the mounting criticism from both the media and Real supporters, Ancelotti believes that Bale remains a key figure and that his form will return once he regains full fitness.
Florentino Pérez, the Real president, is another powerful ally, but support from the top may rest on the club’s summer transfer plans and any need to fund moves for players by dispensing with a high-profile member of the first-team squad, as Pérez has done over the past two years with Mesut Özil and Ángel di María.
Ancelotti regards Bale as a central figure in Real’s Champions League and Copa del Rey successes last season, however, and the Italian will urge Pérez to resist any attempts by United or other Premier League clubs to lure the former Tottenham player.
With Ancelotti’s future expected to be linked to Real’s success in the Champions League, though, the former Chelsea and Paris St-Germain coach could lose his job before any decision is made on Bale by Pérez.
Despite Bale’s partner and young daughter now splitting their time between Madrid and Cardiff, the player is determined to remain at the Bernabéu for at least one more season, having cited his transfer to the European champions as the realisation of a dream following his £85 million move from Spurs in August 2013. The Bale camp are aware of United’s interest, which dates back to the summer of his move to Spain, when David Moyes, who was then manager at Old Trafford, failed in a late bid to hijack the deal. But at present there is no mood to push for a move back to England.
Bale, 25, has become the target for the Real crowd in recent weeks, with his relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo also increasingly under the spotlight due to the perceived frustration of the Portuguese winger with Bale’s decision-making.
The player was also the subject of widespread mockery on social media as a result of statistics which showed that he had touched the ball just 14 times in the first half in Turin – six times fewer than the Real goalkeeper, Iker Casillas.
Keane’s criticisms prompted an angry response from Bale’s representative, Jonathan Barnett, who delivered a staunch defence of his client to the BBC.
“Why should we take any notice of comments from people who don’t know what they are talking about, and from people who have failed in management?” Barnett said. “This is only an issue in England. Gareth is at the biggest club in the world, he is one of the best players in the world. He is fine. He only listens to relevant comments and he is 100 per cent focused on Real Madrid.”
Real go into the second leg against the Italian champions next Wednesday knowing that a 1-0 victory will take them through to a second successive final. And Real’s Colombian midfielder James Rodríguez admitted that the club’s supporters must make the Bernabéu a hostile and intimidating arena when Juventus visit.
“The Bernabéu must be burning and we have to go out to kill them,” James said. “But the defeat is not a bad loss. They were lucky. I had a chance that came off the bar, but it was bad luck and it didn’t go in. We have to leave this behind and think about next Wednesday. They will sit back and we have to have faith.”
The Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal insisted his team could eliminate Real and reach a first Champions League final since 2003. “I don’t know who thought that we were the easy rival in the draw,” Vidal said. “We have always had in our heads that we can be champions of Europe.
“We know it is difficult, but you prove who you are on the pitch. It’s a very important result for us – a win that is just reward for our hard work. We must play with our heads next week at the Bernabéu. Real is a strong team and play spectacular football but we were strong to get the victory.”
Juventus will take a 2-1 lead to the Bernabeu in the second-leg of their Champions League semi-final and ITV pundit Roy Keane was withering in his assessment of Gareth Bale's performance for the losers.