Gareth Bale's latest injury troubles have led the Spanish media to draw comparisons with Jonathan Woodgate and his troubled spell at Real Madrid.
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Woodgate joined Madrid from Leeds for 13.4 million pounds in August 2004, but regular injuries meant the England international defender made just 14 appearances for the La Liga giants before leaving for Middlesbrough two years later.
Bale’s situation looks nowhere near as serious at the moment, however the former Tottenham player has completed 90 minutes in just nine of 30 competitive games since joining for 101 million euros last summer, with a new problem arising each time it seems he is about to get back to full fitness.
The Wales captain’s latest knock came when he was kicked in the groin early in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Granada at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Although he played on for over half an hour he was eventually substituted at half-time.
The club have issued no medical statement confirming any injury, but Bale subsequently missed training on Sunday and Monday. Coach Carlo Ancelotti then ruled him out of Tuesday’s Copa del Rey game with Espanyol at the Bernabeu, trying to play down the seriousness of the problem, while not giving any exact details of what was wrong beyond "discomfort" and a "problem with his left leg."
Such uncertainty has been a feature of Bale’s five months at Madrid, with issues often described as small problems with his left thigh leading to absences of a few weeks. A knock picked up in training in December which Ancelotti first dismissed as minor, for instance, kept him out of action for over three weeks.
AS points out that Madrid’s medical statements on his injuries are often late, vague and not signed by any individual member of the club’s medical staff. “There are some who have started to see parallels with Woodgate,” the report claims ominously.
The root of these 'thigh' muscle injuries is thought to be an issue with Bale’s back. Marca claimed in October that he had a serious spinal problem which would require surgery -- and that the club knew about his but went ahead with the world record signing anyway.
At that point Carlos Diez, chief of Medical Services Sanitas-Real Madrid, did go public to say that there was an injury, but that he and his colleagues had drawn up a training regime to deal with it.
“What we are doing is developing a programme of preventative recuperation, with the idea that he feels protected and can avoid it getting more serious,” Diez said. “That consists of reinforcing the abdominal and lumbar muscles with preventative exercises.
"This muscular reinforcement works like a kind of girdle or corset on the [spinal] column, so there is no further suffering from the protrusions.”
The success of that programme is now being called into question, although Ancelotti said on Monday that he expects Bale to be available for selection for Madrid’s tough looking La Liga game at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.