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Monday, December 9, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gareth Bale returns to Real Madrid after mocking club with banner

Zsolt Nagy, right, of Hungary and Gareth Bale of Wales in action during the Euro 2020 group E qualifying soccer match between Wales and Hungary at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. (Tamas Kovacs / MTI via AP)
Zsolt Nagy, right, of Hungary and Gareth Bale of Wales in action during the Euro 2020 group E qualifying soccer match between Wales and Hungary at Cardiff City Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. (Tamas Kovacs / MTI via AP)
By Joseph Wilson Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain – Gareth Bale has made his priorities clear. Now Real Madrid will get its turn.

First comes his home country of Wales.

Second is a round of golf.

Third is his job of playing professional football for millions of euros for one of the world’s most glamorous and successful clubs.

Bale faces his first potential match for Madrid on Saturday since publicly mocking his club by celebrating Wales’ qualification for the 2020 European Championship behind a banner that read “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In That Order.”

The banner was a direct response to criticism of him by former Madrid player Predrag Mijatovic, who said on sport talk radio that Bale put Wales and golf before Madrid. But instead of ignoring the comment by the pundit, Bale appeared to embrace it and turn it into a joke.

That has made many in Spain wonder how many more chances Bale will receive to contribute to the third-most important commitment in his life.

Bale played in both of Wales’ European qualifiers this past week, providing an assist to help beat Hungary 2-0 in a winner-takes-all showdown in Cardiff on Tuesday. That was followed by his peculiar celebration at the expense of Madrid.

Before his appearances with his national side, Bale missed six straight matches for Madrid. The club said he was unavailable due to a nagging calf injury.

If Bale is not in Zinedine Zidane’s squad for Saturday’s match against Real Sociedad the injury claim will be hard to sustain. And, if he does play, Bale cannot expect a warm reception from the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium crowd.

The reactions to Bale’s banner ranged from anger to pure puzzlement at just why a player would poke fun at the club that his paying his annual salary of 15 million euros ($16.6 million).

Whatever his reasons, the episode will surely widen the chasm between him and Zidane, who last summer said Madrid was close to selling Bale and that his exit would be best for all. That move never materialized and Bale stayed, but only to contribute erratically.

Even his golfing has caused problems for the injury-prone Bale. At least twice he has picked up injuries after having played golf, and Madrid’s fans and sports media often link the two.

Many Madrid supporters are fed up with Bale and will likely be more excited to see Sociedad midfielder Martin Odegaard, who is excelling for the Basque club while playing on loan from Madrid.

Madrid paid a then world-record 100 million euros (then $132 million) for Bale to pry him from Tottenham in 2013. He has scored some spectacular goals, playing his best in finals for the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. But injuries and long stretches of uninspired play have made him an unreliable player.

Jose Mourinho’s hiring by Tottenham has also kindled speculation that Bale’s former English club could be willing to buy him back in the winter transfer window.

In 2017 while coaching Manchester United, Mourinho said that if Madrid didn’t want Bale, he would “be waiting for him on the other side and be fighting with the other coaches who would like to have him on their team.”

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