(Reuters) - Gareth Bale has risked deepening the rift between himself and his club by declaring he prefers playing for Wales than for Real Madrid ahead of his country’s crucial Euro 2020 qualifier away to Azerbaijan on Saturday.
Bale has not featured for Real since a 4-2 win over Granada on Oct. 5 after injuring himself in Wales’ last game against Croatia, with coach Zinedine Zidane declaring last Friday that the forward was not fit enough to play for his club.
“I definitely have a bit more excitement playing for Wales. With Wales, I’m speaking my own language and feeling more comfortable,” Bale told a news conference ahead of Saturday’s game in Baku.
“I’ve been with most of the players, especially the older ones, since we were in the Under-17s. It’s like playing with your mates down the park on a Sunday.
“But it still doesn’t change what I give on the pitch. I always give 100% wherever I am, and that’s what I always strive to do.”
Bale has won four Champions League titles with Real, scoring crucial goals in two finals, but has long had an uneasy relationship with the club.
Coach Zinedine Zidane said in the close season that he wanted to sell the former Tottenham Hotspur player, declaring: “If he leaves tomorrow then all the better”.
Bale’s frequent injury problems have been a bone of contention, while he has also been criticised in the media for leaving matches he is not playing in before the end.
Bale’s inclusion in the Wales squad despite his injury problems has led to fierce criticism among the Spanish media, with newspaper AS continuing to question the forward’s commitment to the 13-times European champions.
“Maybe to them (the Spanish press) it doesn’t look great but it’s just a kind of coincidence that the national team comes around this week and I’ve returned to full training,” added Bale.
“If I’m fit, no matter where I am, I’m going to try and play, whether it be for Wales or Madrid. For me it was a no-brainer: if I’m fit to play then I’ll give it my all.”
Bale was one of Wales’ key players in their thrilling run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 but his side are in danger of not qualifying for Euro 2020.
They are fourth in Group E on eight points and will be out of contention in the group if they lose to Azerbaijan, although they could still qualify for the tournament through the playoffs.
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis