Real Madrid defender Marcelo has suggested Gareth Bale's struggles for cohesion at the club could be down to the language barrier, saying the Welshman "doesn't talk" in the dressing room and hasn't learned any Spanish.
Almost six years have passed since Bale joined Real from Tottenham Hotspur for a then-world-record fee of £85.3 million. Marcelo spoke to Esporte Interativo (h/t Marca's Panos Kostopoulos) of his team-mate as being far from the most conversational, while suggesting he is lonely at the Santiago Bernabeu:
"I had a very good relationship with Cristiano [Ronaldo], his family and his girlfriend. I played 9 years with him and it's normal to be sad.
"[I was also sad] with [the departure of] Kiko Casilla, who was sitting next to me [in the dressing room].
"Every day I was saying, 'How are you Kiko, how are you doing?' and now I have no one next to me.
"On the other side I have Bale, but Bale does not speak [Spanish] as he only speaks English and we talk with gestures and I say, 'Hi, hello and good wine.'"
Journalist Richard Martin reflected on how Bale's decision to not put more effort into learning Spanish could have played a big hand in how fans and the media feel about his place at Real:
The Wales international is an undoubted talent but has long battled against headlines and speculation since moving to Spain in 2013, encountering more resistance than was ever the case during his Premier League days.
That's despite the fact he has and continues to produce for Real on the pitch. The 29-year-old recently celebrated his century of goals for Los Blancos:
Marcelo, who turns 31 in May, moved to Real from Brazilian club Fluminense in 2007, but some subpar performances this season have started the question as to whether his best days are behind him.
Similar questions have been asked of Bale as he's endured a string of injury setbacks during his time in Madrid, even though he often rises to the big occasions, such as last season's UEFA Champions League final win over Liverpool:
Not being able to speak the native language is a clear stumbling block for any player, as much for being unable to understand the opposition's chatter as it is for struggling to interpret one's own team-mates.
It's something of a surprise Bale has managed to do as well as he has with such a limited grasp of Spanish during his five-and-a-half years in Madrid. He has more than three years remaining on his Real contract.