Real Madrid's Gareth Bale 'not 100%' fit for Champions League final
Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale has said that he is not yet 100 percent over a troublesome ankle injury but is happy to help the team in whatever way coach Zinedine Zidane decides in Saturday's Champions League final against Juventus in Cardiff.
Bale first suffered the right ankle tendon injury at Sporting Lisbon in November, derailing his campaign, and a decision rush back from a relatively minor calf problem in time for April's Clasico against Barcelona backfired when he limped off before half-time.
The Wales international has returned to full training with his teammates in recent days, but he said at Madrid's Media Open Day ahead of the weekend's game that the ankle injury had been more troublesome than previously revealed and had not yet completely healed.
"I am not 100 percent, I haven't played for six or seven weeks," Bale said. "I obviously had my operation which still really hasn't recovered. I have been playing with a lot of pain, even when I came back I was taking tablets to get through games and training.
"The last six or seven weeks have enabled me to rest my ankle a bit and really try to get it a bit better, and obviously recover from the [calf muscle] injury which it caused. I am not 100 percent, but I have been working hard, double sessions the last few weeks, to get myself as ready as I can, whether to start, or to be involved at some point.
"We had a practice game on Saturday so I come through it all unscathed. I feel strong, feel fit, obviously match fitness is a different thing. I obviously have battled hard to get fit for this. Now I feel finally it is healing, it is right there, almost at 100 percent."
During Bale's absence Isco has come into the starting XI and impressed hugely as the team saw off Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semifinals and closed out a first La Liga title in five seasons, raising a debate over whether Bale should return to the team even if fit.
Bale admitted that he was unlikely to last 90 minutes given he has been out such a while.
"If I'm called upon to start, I will start, obviously," he said. "But to last 90 minutes, I haven't played a lot of football this year since my operation, so that would be difficult. Obviously Isco has been playing fantastically well for us, in the end of the season, so whatever the manager requires of me I will be there to do it. The most important is to lift that Champions League trophy at the end of the game."
Bale said that there have been times when he had grown frustrated at the progress of his recovery following the ankle injury late last year, and had made a mistake in forcing the issue to try and get back too quickly.
"I've been very unlucky with my ankle to require surgery, so it has been very frustrating," he said. "There have been moments when I have had to consider other things with my ankle. I have had to work tirelessly hard, double sessions, being away from my family a lot working hard on it. It has been difficult, physically and mentally.
"Obviously any surgery is difficult, but in the middle of a season is always that bit more difficult. You want to come back as soon as possible. In hindsight I should have stayed out a bit longer and let it heal and strengthen. But obviously that wasn't the case, I'll live and I'll learn."
Playing a Champions League final in his home city of Cardiff would be particularly special, Bale said.
"It is massively special for me personally, as it is where I was born, where I grew up," he said. "Any Champions League final is special, but obviously this is a little bit extra special. I always dreamed I'd play a Champions League final, but never in my home town. At the time there was not a stadium big enough I don't think."
Ahead of Madrid's third final in four years, Bale said he expected a similarly tight contest to the games against Atletico Madrid, which Los Blancos both won after extra-time.
"You never expect to win two finals, never mind three," he said. "I came to this club to play in finals, to win trophies. Hopefully we can add another one now on Saturday. [Although] it is a different team [from the last two finals]. We know it will be a very difficult match, a tight cagey affair as all Champions League finals are. I think there will not be too many chances, but the team who takes their chances will win."
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