Frustrated Bale facing summer exit from Real
With Gareth Bale expected to be on the bench for the first leg of Real Madrid's Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich tonight, coach Zinedine Zidane dropped a clear hint that other big-name players in his stellar squad might follow the path of James Rodriguez and leave this summer.
Inevitably, Zidane was quizzed on how he felt about letting James go last year on a two-season loan move to Bayern, where the coach Jupp Heynckes has praised the Colombian's growing influence.
James is expected to start against Real, with Heynckes saying that the midfielder had been "depressed" on his arrival from the Spanish giants.
"I took care of him, I had lot of talks with him and, step by step, he found confidence," Heynckes said.
"Our fans here, when they see him play football, they enjoy it. Above all he is a player who has fantasy, has an overview."
There will be concern at Real at the damage a rejuvenated James might inflict on them, but Zidane insisted: "I never had any problems with James.
"He just wanted to play more and I understood. This year will be the same - there are important players but they have to sit on the bench. This is the most difficult part of being a coach."
Was that a reference to the likes of Bale? The break-up of Real's 'BBC' trident - Bale, Benzema, Cristiano - appears increasingly inevitable at the end of this campaign and it is the Welshman who seems the most surplus to requirements, even if his desire is to stay.
Bale started the second leg of the quarter-final against Juventus, but was substituted at half-time and there have been too many games this season when the 28-year-old has not been an automatic selection or made an impact.
He has travelled to Munich, as has all the Real first-team squad, but the suggestions were that Karim Benzema and Isco would start.
The James subplot is one of many intertwined between Real and Bayern.
When Zidane said it was "in the DNA of this club" to be in the last four of the Champions League he could also have been referring to Bayern.
"It's the determination we have. It's a club, it's a team that has always been fighting at this level," Zidane said ahead of what has become a European Clasico.
In fact, this is the most frequently occurring tie in Champions League history with 18 meetings.
This will be the 25th overall in the European Cup, and it is the minimum requirement for each of these super-clubs to be in the semi-finals. Those links also involve Toni Kroos and Real's former Bayern midfielder reminded everyone of last year's controversial meeting in the quarter-finals.
Arturo Vidal was wrongly sent off in the second leg at the Bernabeu and Cristiano Ronaldo scored from an offside position. Twice. The club have not forgotten. Then there is Heynckes. It is an extraordinary tie for the 72-year-old, who retires - again - at the end of this season after the club pleaded with him to return following the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti.
As in 2013, when he retired to make way for Pep Guardiola, Heynckes could go out with a treble of league, domestic cup and Champions League.
Heynckes has reached the final in his past three campaigns and coached Real to their triumph in 1998, a remarkable feat given it was the first time they had won it in 32 years.
Zidane was in the Juventus team that was beaten in Amsterdam. Heynckes was sacked a week later. Now he stands in the way of Real winning it three times in a row.
"I played against great coaches like Sacchi, Cruyff, Lippi, Happel and Weisweiller," Heynckes said. "They were all fantastic coaches. But I was also always an admirer of Zizou, both as player and coach. I like how Real play under him and how calm he is on the sidelines. He is a role-model coach." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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