Breaking down Bale's injury-plagued Real Madrid career season by season
Real Madrid Galactico Gareth Bale's latest injury woes have brought back the focus on his fitness record, which has seen regularly sidelined during his time in Spain, with doubts and rumours often circulating about the true extent of his problems.
The calf muscle tweak that saw Bale limp out of Sunday's La Liga Clasico defeat at home to Barcelona was the 17th different injury the Wales international has had since his €100 million arrival from Tottenham in summer 2013. The majority of his absences have been due to his problematic calf muscles (six to the left, two to the right), but there have also been back, knee, ankle and hamstring issues.
There is no sign either of the problems clearing up. He has already missed about half of his club's games in all competitions this season, and he now looks very unlikely to play a part in the looming Champions League semifinals against Atletico Madrid and La Liga run-in against Barca.
That looks a blow for the team's chances, as coaches Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane have always shown faith in the Galactico signing, a reported favourite of club president Florentino Perez. Although the statistics appear to show the team actually does better week to week when Bale is not on the pitch, despite his record of scoring big goals at key moments which have won trophies.
Number of injuries: 6
Games played/missed: 40/17
Madrid results with him: W29 D6 L5
Madrid results without him: W13 D3 L1
Bale arrived at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu not 100 percent fit having missed most of preseason as his transfer from Tottenham dragged on.
After scoring on his debut at Villarreal in mid-September, he tweaked a left calf muscle in the warm-up before Getafe at home the next weekend. Just a few weeks later, on as a sub against Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu, he injured a muscle in his other calf, and was out again for almost a month.
In October, Marca claimed the real issue was a long-standing spinal problem that Madrid had known about but ignored when signing him, a report strenuously denied by Perez.
Madrid's medical staff did put together a plan of "preventative recuperation" to build up muscles in his lower back, with the aim of avoiding problems elsewhere. This did not show immediate results, and he missed two games in December after teammate Alvaro Arbeloa accidentally kicked him in the left calf at training. By January, a cruel local media report brought comparisons with Jonathan Woodgate's disastrous spell at Madrid in the mid-2000s.
Bale was mostly fit for the decisive part of the season, however, which he made the most of by galloping half the pitch to score a late winner in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona, and then heading in the key goal in extra time as Ancelotti's side won the Decima Champions League final against Atletico.
Number of injuries: 2
Games played/missed: 46/12
Madrid results with him: W30 D6 L10
Madrid results without him: W12 D0 L0
Bale's first injury of his second season was a back problem picked up apparently while shooting at goal in training, and he missed four games including a Champions League group fixture at Liverpool and a 3-1 Clasico win in which the team looked more balanced with Isco as an extra midfielder.
He then had his longest run of full fitness in recent years, and he scored in December's Club World Cup final victory over San Lorenzo. Some media reports credited his improved physical condition to giving up his Lamborghini, as the driving posture within the supercar had been an issue. Others claimed use of an "anti-gravity belt" developed by NASA by Madrid's medical staff was behind the positive developments.
However as the team's season turned sour, he was often whistled by the Bernabeu crowd, and there were regular stories of an uneasy relationship with fellow superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. An awkwardly timed calf injury nixed the Champions League quarterfinal victory over Atletico, and he was then panned by pundits including Roy Keane as the semis brought defeat to Juventus and the sack for Ancelotti.
The Italian coach has recently claimed in a new book that Bale's uncertain position in the team was one reason for his ultimate falling-out with Perez. An awkward stat for Bale (and Perez) was that during the Wales international's second season at the club, Madrid won all 12 games that he missed, while losing 10 of the 30 in which he played.
Number of injuries: 6
Games played/missed: 29/23
Madrid results with him: W21 D4 L4
Madrid results without him: W17 D5 L1
New Blancos coach Rafa Benitez began his reign talking of Bale as the central player in his plans, but he missed eight Madrid games due to left calf problems in September and October, although he did manage to play all 180 minutes in Wales' key Euro 2016 qualifiers against Bosnia and Andorra.
Bale then missed six weeks in January and February with a right calf issue, while there were also back, knee and hamstring problems in March and April. Marca claimed he had set back his recovery by playing 36 holes of golf in one day, reports dismissed (but not flatly denied) by Zidane.
But Bale again proved his worth on the big occasions towards the end of the campaign. He assisted Ronaldo's winner in the 2-1 Clasico win at the Camp Nou, provided the only goal in the Champions League semifinal against Manchester City and there was an assist and converted penalty in the shootout as Atletico were defeated again in the Champions League final.
Number of injuries: 3
Games played/missed: 24/27
Madrid results with him: W16 D7 L1
Madrid results without him: W17 D6 L4
Bale started the season in the best form of his career, and around the time he signed a new six-year contract last October -- and spoke of coming through tough times previously at the Bernabeu -- he was probably his team's most important attacker. However an ankle tendon injury suffered at Sporting Lisbon in November derailed his campaign, and he has never really regained full fitness since.
Zidane has often praised his professionalism and work ethic, while suggesting that frustration at so much time out saw him rush back and contributed to his latest layoff.
Bale will now miss the looming Champions League semis against Atletico as well as key games in the domestic run-in. Barring an unlikely dramatic late turnaround, this will be his least productive season in terms of appearances, goals and assists. But don't rule out a late heroic end-of-season contribution just yet.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan