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Transfer Rater: Juan Mata to Real Madrid

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Breaking down Bale's injury-plagued Real Madrid career season by season

With Gareth Bale back on the bench due to injury, the FC crew discuss his future with Real Madrid.

News of yet another muscle injury for Real Madrid star Gareth Bale was mostly accepted with sad resignation -- with few around the Bernabeu surprised by his latest setback.

Having not played since limping off at Borussia Dortmund in late September, Bale had been excused international duty last week to work on his fitness ahead of Saturday's La Liga derbi at Atletico Madrid.

That plan was foiled by a calf muscle strain which is the 19th different injury the 28-year-old has had since his €100 million arrival from Tottenham in summer 2013. The majority of his absences have been due to his problematic calf muscles (eight to the left; two to the right), but there have also been back, knee, ankle and hamstring issues.

Coaches Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane have always shown faith in Bale, but even if the Welshman is available by Dec. 16's Club World Cup final, or the Clasico against Barcelona a week later, few would bet on Zinedine Zidane taking a risk on starting him.

At this point, patience and sympathy for Bale are in very short supply around the Bernabeu.

2013-14

Number of injuries: 6
Games played/missed: 40/17
Goals/assists: 22/12
Madrid results with him: W29 D6 L5
Madrid results without him: W13 D3 L1

Bale arrived at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu not 100 percent fit having missed most of preseason as his transfer from Tottenham dragged on.

After scoring on his debut at Villarreal in mid-September, he tweaked a left calf muscle in the warm-up before Getafe at home the next weekend. Just a few weeks later, on as a sub against Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu, he injured a muscle in his other calf, and was out again for almost a month.

In October, Marca claimed the real issue was a long-standing spinal problem that Madrid had known about but ignored when signing him, a report strenuously denied by Perez.

Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale missed 17 matches in 2013-14 through multiple calf injuries.

Madrid's medical staff did put together a plan of "preventative recuperation" to build up muscles in his lower back, with the aim of avoiding problems elsewhere. This did not show immediate results, and he missed two games in December after teammate Alvaro Arbeloa accidentally kicked him in the left calf at training. By January, a cruel local media report brought comparisons with Jonathan Woodgate's disastrous spell at Madrid in the mid-2000s.

Bale was mostly fit for the decisive part of the season, however, which he made the most of by galloping half the pitch to score a late winner in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona, and then heading in the key goal in extra time as Ancelotti's side won the Decima Champions League final against Atletico.

2014-15

Number of injuries: 2
Games played/missed: 46/12
Goals/assists: 16/10
Madrid results with him: W30 D6 L10
Madrid results without him: W12 D0 L0

Bale's first injury of his second season was a back problem picked up apparently while shooting at goal in training, and he missed four games including a Champions League group fixture at Liverpool and a 3-1 Clasico win in which the team looked more balanced with Isco as an extra midfielder.

He then had his longest run of full fitness in recent years, and he scored in December's Club World Cup final victory over San Lorenzo. Some media reports credited his improved physical condition to giving up his Lamborghini, as the driving posture within the supercar had been an issue. Others claimed use of an "anti-gravity belt" developed by NASA by Madrid's medical staff was behind the positive developments.

However as the team's season turned sour, he was often whistled by the Bernabeu crowd, and there were regular stories of an uneasy relationship with fellow superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. An awkwardly timed calf injury nixed the Champions League quarterfinal victory over Atletico, and he was then panned by pundits including Roy Keane as the semis brought defeat to Juventus and the sack for Ancelotti.

The Italian coach has recently claimed in a new book that Bale's uncertain position in the team was one reason for his ultimate falling-out with Perez. An awkward stat for Bale (and Perez) was that during the Wales international's second season at the club, Madrid won all 12 games that he missed, while losing 10 of the 30 in which he played.

2015-16

Number of injuries: 6
Games played/missed: 29/23
Goals/assists: 19/12
Madrid results with him: W21 D4 L4
Madrid results without him: W17 D5 L1

Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale missed more matches in 2015-16 than any season to date at Real Madrid because of calf, back, knee and hamstring injuries.

New Blancos coach Rafa Benitez began his reign talking of Bale as the central player in his plans, but he missed eight Madrid games due to left calf problems in September and October, although he did manage to play all 180 minutes in Wales' key Euro 2016 qualifiers against Bosnia and Andorra.

Bale then missed six weeks in January and February with a right calf issue, while there were also back, knee and hamstring problems in March and April. Marca claimed he had set back his recovery by playing 36 holes of golf in one day, reports dismissed (but not flatly denied) by Zidane.

But Bale again proved his worth on the big occasions towards the end of the campaign. He assisted Ronaldo's winner in the 2-1 Clasico win at the Camp Nou, provided the only goal in the Champions League semifinal against Manchester City and there was an assist and converted penalty in the shootout as Atletico were defeated again in the Champions League final.

2016-17

Number of injuries: three
Games played/missed: 25/35
Goals/assists: 9/3
Madrid results with him: W17 D7 L1
Madrid results without him: W24 D6 L5

Bale started in the best form of his career, and around the time he signed a new six year contract last October he was probably his team's most important attacker as Ronaldo began the season dealing with his own fitness issues.

However an ankle tendon injury suffered at Sporting Lisbon in November derailed Bale's campaign, and he admitted himself that he never really recovered 100 percent fitness from then on.

His first return was cut short when he limped off against Barcelona in late April's Clasico at the Bernabeu. There then followed a race to be back for May's Champions League final in his home city of Cardiff, and he did manage to come off the bench late with Madrid already headed for victory over Juventus.

Even with the joy of a third UCL victory in four seasons and first La Liga winners' medal, this was Bale's least productive season in terms of appearances, goals and assists, while the emergence of Isco as a key first-team member severely affected his untouchable status. It was then no surprise that the summer was filled with speculation that Madrid were trying to sell him back to England.

Stewart Robson believes it's in Gareth Bale's best interest to step out of the shadows of Real Madrid's abundance of talent.

2017/18

Number of injuries: two
Games played/missed: 9/8
Goals/assists: 3/3
Madrid results with him: W6 D2 L1
Madrid results without him: W5 D1 L2

A goal and assist on La Liga opening day at Deportivo La Coruna after a full preseason led to optimism, however Bale was whistled again at the Bernabeu the very next weekend for a poor performance during a 2-2 draw with Valencia.

Zidane's faith seemed set to be repaid with a superb volley at Borussia Dortmund in late September. But before that game was over Bale limped off with a calf muscle problem only publicly diagnosed when he joined up with Wales the following week.

News that he strained the same muscle at training last Thursday and faces at least another month out has led some to point out he has cost Madrid more than a €1m per game over his time at the club. Inevitably there has also been further debate over how to get at least some money back by selling him as soon as possible.

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan

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