MADRID (Reuters) – Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Paris St Germain’s Neymar have traded places as the most expensive player in the world but find themselves in the firing line from their own supporters as their sides prepare to meet in the Champions League on Wednesday.
Bale was booed by Real fans when he came off the bench in a 3-1 win over Real Sociedad after celebrating Wales qualifying for Euro 2020 last week by dancing in front of a tongue-in-cheek flag bearing the words ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order’.
Bale’s contributions to Real including Champions League final goals against Liverpool and Atletico Madrid have counted for little, though, as his popularity has nosedived, although his coach and team mates have rallied behind him.
“It’s logical to love your country more than your club although perhaps he made a mistake with the flag, but I know Gareth and he is 100 percent committed every day,” goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois told a news conference ahead of the PSG game.
“He is professional and looks after himself. We all saw how he played on Saturday, he almost scored a great goal and if he wasn’t committed he wouldn’t have played like that.”
Bale has not started for Real for more than six weeks but coach Zinedine Zidane said he was ready to include him in the starting line-up against PSG, who routed his side 3-0 when they met in Paris in September.
“It’s an important game for everyone, for Bale, the fans and the team,” added Zidane.
PSG are riding high at the top of Ligue 1 and have won all four of their Champions League games but have done so mostly without Neymar, who has been limited to six appearances.
The Brazilian has had a fragile relationship with PSG ever since courting a move to Barcelona in the close season and came in for renewed criticism for going to watch the Davis Cup in Madrid just as he was recovering from a hamstring problem.
He looked to be lacking sharpness in Friday’s 2-0 win over Lille, his first game for six weeks and did not react well to being substituted in the 65th minute.
He ran straight down the tunnel, prompting boos from sections of the home fans who have long fallen out of love with the player they signed for a record 222 million euros ($244.69 million) in 2017.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge)