Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Bale and Pogba could be the main attractions in Real Madrid vs. Juventus

Paul Pogba, left, could be the next Galactico to arrive at Real Madrid, raising concerns over the future of Gareth Bale, right.
Paul Pogba, left, could be the next Galactico to arrive at Real Madrid, raising concerns over the future of Gareth Bale, right.
There are a host of narratives to the Champions League semifinal second-leg meeting between Real Madrid and Juventus on Wednesday evening, but one that stands out concerns the fortunes of Gareth Bale and Paul Pogba.

Bale is under increasing scrutiny at the Bernabeu, but the Welshman is hardly alone in that; the world's most expensive player is finding out exactly what being a Real Madrid employee entails as the 2014-15 season draws to a close.

Around this time last year, Bale was the hero for Real when he popped up in both the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals to score decisive goals, yet 12 months later his commitment and ability are being questioned, a matter hardly helped by his agent saying that his teammates have to "pass the ball to him more."

Bale may well be happy at the club -- Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti said Tuesday this is so -- but there is nothing like the singular pressure of life at Real Madrid, and anything related to a big name like Bale will be viewed through a microscope, as this example has shown.

Meanwhile, there is little doubt as to where else the spotlight will fall at the Bernabeu. Pogba is being courted not only by Real president Florentino Perez but also by PSG, both Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Barcelona. The raw truth is that as a genuine all-around footballer, and aged just 22, Pogba could be replacing Bale next season.

Another side story is that of Alvaro Morata. At one time Real's brightest academy star, he was frustrated at a lack of opportunity and last summer joined Pogba at Juventus. The move has worked out nicely indeed for the 22-year-old.

Much was made of the striker's refusal to celebrate his goal in Juve's 2-1 first-leg victory over Real in Turin, but those who criticised miss the point. Morata is mature beyond his years and has said he is grateful for the opportunities handed to him during his time at the Spanish club. It was to his credit that he was muted following his goal, but that doesn't mean he will return to Madrid.

Morata has been very quotable for the Italian press during his first season in Serie A, and among his most memorable sound bites was one describing Juve as a "family club." Those comments suggest he didn't get that same vibe at Real under Perez and club director Emilio Butragueno.

It's hardly surprising, and goalkeeper Iker Casillas is a timely case in point. He has lined up for his hometown club more than 700 times and was instrumental in Real's 2000 and 2002 Champions League victories, aged 19 in the first and coming off the bench decisively in the second. If only Spanish voters had such short memories.

Yet Casillas is derided, heckled and called to account for every ball that hits the back of the net, or indeed goes anywhere near it. Against Valencia at the weekend, he finally cracked and aimed some very choice words at the Bernabeu faithful. The likelihood is that he won't be around next season, and who can blame him?

Casillas is at the other end of football's kaleidoscope from that which sees eyes melt into Pogba -- and what beckons, if the goalkeeper leaves this summer, is most likely a couple of lucrative seasons in a league where "legacy" still means something, even if the trophies on offer don't.

Ancelotti said ahead of Wednesday's clash that "this will be different, all ofMadridismo will be behind the team." And that is exactly the problem. They won't, as soon as Casillas spoons a clearance or Bale fails to pass to Ronaldo.

As always, the traveling support will be the ones really making the noise, and as in Turin, they really will be behind their team. Familiarity breeds contempt, but so does success, and Real are a little too used to that for their own good.

The Decima may have been some time in coming, but the unshakable belief that it was there by right was ever-present. Juve have waited more than a decade since their last final in 2003, and Massimiliano Allegri's side showed in Turin that they won't pass up their opportunity lightly.

It is no secret that Juve fans don't care much for Ancelotti, who managed the club from 1999-2001, and the sentiment is reciprocated: "It's a club I don't have much love for," the Italian commented ahead of the first leg.

With La Liga all but surrendered, the Champions League is the last chance for Real and their manager to make this a successful season. I believe Ancelotti's position is basically secure regardless of Wednesday's result.

However, by contrast, the futures of Pogba, Bale and Casillas are very much up in the air, and this match could go some way in deciding those futures.

Whatever lineups are called upon by the coaches, this second leg will be influenced by the stands as much as anywhere on the pitch. Juve's fans will be in full voice throughout. It will be interesting to see how long Real's last if things don't go their way from the outset.


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