Thursday 16 August 2018

Zinedine Zidane hints Gareth Bale could leave in the summer as James Rodriguez prepares to face parent club

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane

Jason Burt

With Gareth Bale expected to be on the bench for Real Madrid’s Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich, 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 whose coach Jupp Heynckes hailed the Colombian’s growing influence. James is expected to start against Real with Heynckes saying that the midfielder had been left “depressed” by his departure 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 right now even if, clearly, it remains his desire to stay.

Bale started in 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, when fit, has not been an automatic selection or has not made an impact. He has travelled to Munich, as has the whole of the Real first-team squad, but the suggestions where that Karim Benzema would start as would Isco.

The sub-plot of James is one of many intertwined between Real and Bayern. As Zidane spoke of it being “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 Classico.

In fact this is the most frequently occurring tie in Champions League history, a 25thoverall 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 the former Bayern midfielder reminded everyone of last year’s controversial meeting, in the quarter-finals, which has left the Germans burning with a sense of injustice - and with some justification as Arturo Vidal was wrongly sent off in the second leg at the Bernabeu and Cristiano Ronaldo scored from an offside position. Twice.

“Beyond embarrassing,” was the verdict of Bayern’s chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge on the Hungarian referee Vikor Kassai and they 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 come back following the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti. As with 2012-13 Heynckes can go out with a treble of league, cup and Champions League as he ‘retired’ then to make way for Pep Guardiola.

In fact Heynckes has reached the final in his last three Champions League campaigns and coached Real to their triumph in 1998 which was an all the more remarkable feat because it was the first time they had won it in 32 years. And Zidane was in the Juventus team that was beaten in Amsterdam. It did not stop Heynckes being sacked a week later and now he stands in the way of Real winning it three times in a row.

"I played against great coaches like Sacchi, Cruyff, Marcello Lippi, Happel and Weissweiller. They were all fantastic coaches,” Heynckes said. “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 side-lines. He is a role model coach.”

That calmness was evident in the Allianz Arena as Zidane spoke – even if there was a blunt scatological reference to wrap up proceedings: “We can’t, I would say, crap in our pants before matches like this. You have to enjoy it, look forward to it. We have the good luck to play this type of game – coach, players, fans. I enjoy all this type of thing.”

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