November 22, 2019 / 1:33 PM / 15 days ago

Soccer: Zidane defends Bale after flag criticism

MADRID (Reuters) - Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane defended Gareth Bale from criticism as the fallout continued over the Welshman’s decision to celebrate his country’s qualification for Euro 2020 with a flag that suggested the club were not top of his priorities.

Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - Eibar v Real Madrid - Ipurua Municipal Stadium, Eibar, Spain - November 9, 2019 Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane REUTERS/Vincent West

Bale danced with a flag reading ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order’ after Wales sealed qualification for their second consecutive European Championships earlier this week. 

The forward has struggled to win over critics since arriving in Spain in 2013, despite contributing to four Champions League trophies in that time.

While it all appeared good humoured, the media in the Spanish capital failed to see the funny side and implored the club to sever ties with the player they signed for 85 million pounds ($109.28 million) six years ago, accusing Bale of a lack of respect.

“There’s been a lot of noise about what he did but we need to just focus on football. It’s all got a bit too much,” Real coach Zidane told a news conference. “I’m just looking at what he can give us on the pitch, not what’s said off it, that doesn’t interest me.

“I believe he can become a decisive player for us again. He’s an important player when he is injury free; he’s shown that before and he will show it again.”

Real, second in the La Liga standings, host Real Sociedad this weekend at the Bernabeu and Zidane implored the club’s fans to rally behind Bale rather than get on his back. Bale has not played for the club since Oct. 5 due to injury.

“When you see what he’s given to the club and to the fans, those who feel our colours and come to the stadium, you can see he’s one of our own and the fans need to get behind him,” the Frenchman said.

Real will be without Lucas Vazquez for the visit of the Basque outfit after the forward broke his toe by dropping a weight on his foot during a workout on Thursday.

($1 = 0.7778 pounds)

Reporting by Joseph Cassinelli; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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