Santiago Solari dodged seven questions about Gareth Bale on Tuesday as the Welshman’s celebration snub continues to dominate the build-up to Real Madrid’s Copa del Rey Clasico against Barcelona.
Madrid face Barca in the second leg of the cup semi-final on Wednesday, and then again in La Liga four days later, with Bale’s bolshy reaction to scoring against Levante last weekend still the major topic of discussion.
Solari refused to criticise or defend Bale’s behaviour after starting him only twice in the eight matches since the 29-year-old returned from a calf injury in January.
Madrid’s coach was asked about Bale’s discipline, commitment and form but refused to be drawn, insisting his team’s focus was only the game.
“Look, I understand everyone wants to find a focus and you put the focus where it seems important,” Solari said.
“But our focus is only on what we think is important. It is on the game, to win tomorrow, to be united. Where others focus is up to them.”
Asked if he had spoken to Bale about the incident against Levante, Solari said: “There are some things that stay in the dressing room and that remain private.”
Bale was left out of the starting line-up at the City of Valencia Stadium and after coming on to convert a second-half penalty, he remained stony-faced while brushing off attempts from team-mates to congratulate him.
“He won us the game,” said Solari after the 2-1 win. “The players can celebrate goals how they want, as long as they score.”
It was the second time this month that Bale’s response to a goal has caused controversy.
After scoring in a 3-1 win over Atletico Madrid two weeks ago, Bale seemed to make an obscene gesture towards the Atletico fans, which could yet see him banned for the Clasico on Wednesday.
The Spanish Football Federation is yet to decide but if found guilty, Bale could be suspended for both upcoming games against Barcelona.
Vinicius Junior has contributed to Bale’s problems, his blistering form on the left of Madrid’s front three making him all-but indispensable from Solari’s line-up.
“He has arrived with and demonstrated his humility and his talent,” Solari said. “The rest of the team respects him and has always tried to help him. He brings talent, effort, humility and a desire to learn.”
Back to his best for Barca is Lionel Messi, who may be rested for the cup semi-final after scoring a stunning hat-trick, the 50th of his career, against Sevilla on Sunday.
Asked if Madrid’s players fear Messi this week, Solari said: “For those that compete at this level, this word does not exist in football.”