By Richard Martin
(Reuters) - Former Real Madrid striker Predrag Mijatovic criticised Gareth Bale for lacking leadership qualities and hit out at coach Santiago Solari after the club's La Liga title ambitions were dented by Thursday's 2-2 draw at Villarreal.
Real's record signing Bale had to be substituted at halftime after a knock when his side were 2-1 up and Solari later took off playmaker Luka Modric, who had been ill with flu in the build-up to the game.
Veteran midfielder Santi Cazorla then scored for the second time in the game by heading in an equaliser with eight minutes remaining, leaving Madrid in fourth place in the standings and seven points adrift of leaders Barcelona.
"What keeps happening with Bale is a real shame. I like him a lot as a player but he is nowhere near being the leader of the team after Cristiano Ronaldo left," Mijatovic told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser.
"It's worrying that he gets injured so often."
Bale, who has scored only four goals in the league this season, has been injured over 20 times since his 105 million euro signing from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013.
Although he has not suffered any serious injuries this campaign, he has been substituted 15 times in all competitions, sparking concerns about his ability to last 90 minutes.
Mijatovic, scorer of the goal which won the 1998 Champions League final for Madrid over Juventus, also criticised Real coach Solari for removing Modric and said he has not enjoyed watching his former side this season.
"If a player starts a game and feels good and doesn't ask to be substituted, I can't understand why you would take him off. He made a big mistake by taking off Modric," he said.
"I am struggling to watch Real Madrid this season. They played well in the first half (against Villarreal) then when we thought they were going to kick on they played a disastrous second half with no gameplan.
"They have taken a step back in the league this season. I don't think it's a problem of attitude, but more one of impotence. The way they are playing does not make me feel optimistic."
Mijatovic's feelings were echoed in the Spanish media.
"It was like tearing your hair out," said newspaper Marca of Madrid's performance, also describing the team's campaign, in which they sacked coach Julen Lopetegui in October, as "a recurring nightmare."
(Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Martyn Herman)