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Sources: Bale attitude change delights Zidane

Gareth Bale reflects on a summer of speculation about him leaving Real Madrid that ended with him staying with Zinedine Zidane's side.
Steve Nicol decides whether the hot takes from this weekend's action are plausible or simply overreactions.
Paul Mariner and Craig Burley assess Gareth Bale's start to the season after he helped Real Madrid salvage a draw with his two goals at Villarreal.

Zinedine Zidane is delighted with Gareth Bale's change of attitude and believes the Wales international could, along with Eden Hazard, become a key player of his new Real Madrid project, sources have told ESPN FC.

However, the sources added Zidane is still showing some regret for the failed signing of Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.

During a news conference on July 21, Zidane said Bale's exit from Madrid would "be best for everyone" but, following a failed move to China, sources have told ESPN FC the 30-year-old forward has forced his way back into the reckoning by working harder than ever in training.

Bale has scored two goals and set up one more in Madrid's first three games of the La Liga campaign.

Bale spoke about the transfer speculation on Thursday ahead of Wales' European qualifier match against Azerbaijan at Cardiff City Stadium, saying he was not affected by the talk. 

"I don't listen to them [the critics] because they don't really know what they are on about," the 30-year-old forward said.

"I know there was a lot of talk with everybody saying good, bad, whatever they wanted. I just kept my head down, kept working hard in training.

"The things that happened will stay private with the club. If you want answers, maybe you need to ask Real Madrid."

Another footballer who has pleasantly surprised Zidane has been James Rodriguez. Zidane sent James on a two-season loan to Bayern Munich during his first spell in charge, and after the coach returned to the Bernabeu in March it was expected the Colombia international would be sold.

However, the Madrid hierarchy decided to give the player another opportunity, after reported interest from Atletico Madrid was blocked, and several sources have told ESPN FC that the player has returned eager and "more mature" than before.

Bale and James have thus become like new signings for Zidane, but sources close to the Madrid boss added that he was frustrated by the failed signing of Pogba.

Pogba, 26, was the only signing requested by Zidane when he agreed to return to Madrid.

And sources have told ESPN FC that Zidane held back interest in the alternatives proposed by Madrid -- Tottenham's Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek of Ajax -- as he did not think they would add value to the midfielders already at his disposal.

Zidane only wanted Pogba because, according to studies conducted by Madrid's coaching staff, the 2018 World Cup winner is one of the few players who can cope with the intense pace of the Champions League, which exceeds domestic leagues by 7-8 km per hour.

Zidane remains keen on Pogba and will continue to monitor his situation with a view to a move next summer.

Despite missing out on Pogba and the slow start to the season, sources close to Zidane have told ESPN FC that the Frenchman is still "happy" with the club's transfer business as he believes he has a squad that should be capable of competing in all competitions.

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