Real Madrid's Gareth Bale admits rushing recovery last season
Real Madrid star Gareth Bale has admitted to rushing his recovery from an ankle operation last season, but says he never thought of returning to the Premier League during his time on the sidelines.
Bale's 2016-17 campaign was derailed by a right ankle tendon injury picked up against Sporting Lisbon in November, and he suffered regular muscle problems after his return to action in February, which cost him his chance of starting in June's Champions League final victory over Juventus.
Speaking to Marca on his 28th birthday, the Wales international said: "Last year the pain made it difficult for me to get fully fit. I worked hard to recover and now I can do a full preseason.
"Last year it bothered me, because you always try to help the team and give your best. Maybe I should have recovered for longer and not tried to force it, but now there is no pain. The ankle is strong and I am ready."
Bale, who joined from Tottenham in 2013, has regularly been linked with Manchester United over the course of recent years but said he had not considered a return to Britain.
"No, it was all very difficult with my injury, but for no other reason," Bale said. "I signed a long-term contract with Madrid, and I am happy at this club. The truth is I do not read [transfer speculation].
"Logically I am a British player, so I am always linked with a return home. It happened with [David] Beckham, with other English players who came to Spain. It is nothing new. I am happy playing at Madrid, logically interest is interest, but if there was nothing concrete, not even an offer, there is not so much to discuss."
Bale said he was fully focused on making use of Madrid's preseason camp at UCLA to be as ready as possible for the new season, having struggled with calf muscle issues throughout his four years at Madrid.
"[Last year] was bad luck. You cannot avoid these injuries in football when someone kicks your ankle," he said. "When I returned last year, my ankle would not let me be at 100 percent. My goal now is to get back fully fit and keep playing for Real Madrid. I will try to have my best season, as long as injuries allow it."
Asked about teammate Cristiano Ronaldo apparently considering leaving Madrid due to his tax problems, Bale said he had "no clue" how the situation would play out.
"I read nothing about that, I have no clue what is going to happen," he said. "Look, I only realised yesterday that [Romelu] Lukaku had joined Manchester United, so the truth is I don't know. We have done well [together], won trophies, so we don't need to change anything. But you would have to ask him."
Meanwhile, Madrid right-back Dani Carvajal told RMTV that "suffering" under old-school fitness coach Antonio Pintus would be worth it in the long run as they prepare for the UEFA Super Cup against United in Skopje on Aug. 9 and the two-legged Spanish Supercopa against Barcelona the following week.
"Today's was a pretty demanding session, with some running drills at a good pace, but that's just what we need," Carvajal said after a session that included a 45-minute run in the California sunshine. "These weeks are all about suffering. I remember that in last year's Super Cup against Sevilla we were able to fight back in the final minutes thanks to our strong fitness levels, which could be crucial for the whole season."
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