Out-of-favour Gareth Bale has won trophies, held up his end of the deal at Real Madrid
A lot has changed at Real Madrid since Zinedine Zidane declared that the "BBC are the best". It was November 2016 when the Real Madrid manager gushed about his front three: "All my players are the best, but BBC have a little more," he said.
Reports coming from Madrid on Friday suggest that Zidane has run out of patience with Gareth Bale and that his time at Real Madrid is coming to an end. It could very well be true that Real Madrid's loyalty to the player is fading fast. It seems, however, that it was Bale's patience that went first, having been dropped for big games this season despite playing as well as anyone in the squad and being more effective than most.
That being said, it was written in the stars that Bale would eventually be run out of the club but should he leave now, history will be kind to a player who has won every trophy on offer during his five years in the capital of Spain and has scored 81 times in 183 appearances during a golden period for Los Blancos. Regardless of what is said in the moment, he has held up his side of the deal.
Once seen as undroppable, Florentino Perez' stance has apparently softened too and since then, his role in Zidane's side has been under threat. Against Juventus, Real Madrid found themselves 2-0 down at the break in a game that was meant to be a formality after their 3-0 win in the first leg. The Welsh attacker was whipped off at the break and essentially scapegoated for the poor performance. Zidane tried to package it differently but the fraying relationship was not the sturdiest to begin with. Zidane made it sound like a last resort but he chose Bale as the man who would be sacrificed. "I had to change the dynamic," he said after Bale's chance was taken away as soon as it appeared; one of the few chances in big games he has been afforded all season.
Since then, Bale didn't make the trip to Malaga last weekend and only appeared in a cameo against Athletic Bilbao as Zidane continues to deflect questions about his relationship with the Welshman.
Bale has continually insisted that he wanted to succeed at Real Madrid and has managed that even though it might not seem that way. Bale's agent, Jonathan Barnett, has appeared in the press recently, first exclaiming that his client would cost as much as Neymar if he was for sale, and maybe more importantly, command a wage packet to equal the Brazilian too. That was before he made statements suggesting unequivocally that Bale was going nowhere and that his future was at the Santiago Bernabeu. "Gareth loves Real Madrid and Real Madrid love Gareth," he said.
The Spanish dailies were convinced even when Bale's agent tried to quell the rumours of a summer departure, and weren't afraid to report it. Every benching a further nail in his coffin. Bale, the introvert, was wearing out his welcome. But this treatment of Bale is short-sighted and completely unfair.
His loyalty to Madrid was on full display during the preseason when Jose Mourinho told Bale in the tunnel before their side's game in the International Champions Cup that he couldn't sign him because he "never spoke up". It was an ambiguous statement but the implication was that had Bale pushed, Mourinho could have pulled him to Old Trafford. Bale's work in Madrid was not done though, and he kept mum.
If the rumours are true that Zidane and Bale's relationship has exploded into smithereens, it also offers Zidane another problem. We saw on Wednesday night when Real Madrid played Bilbao that despite playing at home against a struggling side, they couldn't figure out how to break down the visitors' defence. They needed a moment of inspiration and while it came from Cristiano Ronaldo late on, it wasn't enough to get a win. Bayern Munich are much better than Bilbao and that moment of magic might be harder to come by in a Champions League semi-final.
Maybe Zidane was pushed to the limit by Bale's nonchalance, as has been reported, when challenged at half-time of the Juventus game, but the manager's exclusion of the winger could come back to haunt him.
Last summer, Bale would not conspire with Mourinho to pull the trigger on a deal. This year, however, he might be ready to give the go-ahead. He remained loyal when the easy thing might have been to leave the club and while Real Madrid fans are frustrated with their most expensive signing, he has every reason to be frustrated with his treatment by the club too.
Robbie is based in Madrid and is one of ESPN FC's Real Madrid bloggers. Twitter: @robbiejdunne