Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos labelled Gareth Bale a ‘great player’ and backed his team-mate after a difficult off-season.
Bale was tipped to leave Madrid with a shock move to the Chinese Super League on the cards, however, the Wales star remained at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Unwanted by head coach Zinedine Zidane, Bale – who has won four Champions League titles and a La Liga trophy among other honours since arriving from Tottenham in 2013 – has featured in all three league matches this season, scoring a brace in Madrid’s 2-2 draw with Villarreal last time out.
Amid criticism of Bale and his reported disconnect from the Madrid squad, Ramos told the Daily Mail: “I think Bale’s a great player and he’s been really important for the club in the years he’s been with us.
“You find many things in the press. Some are true, some are not. We live in this world and we have to try to be above all that.
“Regarding what has been said about Gareth, I think time puts everything in place. Regardless of what each player does in his personal life, I think it should be respected and not even talked about. We’re free to do what we want with our free time.
“Of course, professionally, you owe yourself to a team, to a club, and you try to be as honest as possible. Afterwards, it’s up to each person to go home with a clear conscience or not.”
Doubts over Bale’s future came after Zidane returned for a second spell in charge of Madrid towards the latter stages of the 2018-19 campaign.
Zidane oversaw three successive Champions League triumphs before leaving in 2018, however, the Frenchman returned following the departures of Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari.
Madrid finished third in La Liga last season as their Champions League defence ended in the last 16, while the Spanish giants are four points off the pace with just one win in three games this term.
“He remains the same person. He keeps his essence as a manager. He has more experience,” Ramos said of Zidane. “I would sum up in essence he is the same person, but better because he has more experience.”
Ramos, who equalled the record for most Spain caps with his 167th international appearance in Euro 2020 qualifying, added: “Of course after a winning streak for a long time, there’s a turning point. Yes, we stopped winning. But there isn’t a component of the team that is tired of winning. It is just something that happened and we have to reset and restart. We have new people in our team.
“We will always be a contender to winning. You are forced to win every year. We have to get rid of a bad season and we have more hunger to win and more hunger for competition. I think this will be a good year and we have to do things right from the beginning.”