Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane refused to criticise Gareth Bale after he was pictured playing golf during the team's 1-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday.
Bale did not travel with the Real squad to Germany for the Audi Cup, which Zidane had attributed to illness, but Spanish outlet El Confidencial photographed the winger on a golf course:
Zidane discussed the matter after his side beat Fenerbahce 5-3 on Wednesday:
Per the Daily Mail's Mike Keegan, he said:
"You are telling me something that has surely happened. I'm here with my players, and I'm not going to comment on that. I've not seen the picture. I'm here with my players, so I can't say much about that. I hope he's working well.
"But I'm here with my players, and we will see when we get back to Madrid. I'm not going to tell him off or that he's not allowed to do it. He's old enough to do what he wants."
The Frenchman added: "It's his private life. It's not something I judge. I think he trained well. We'll see what's going to happen when I get back to Madrid."
As ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan observed, the coach appeared unhappy with the level of questioning he received on the matter:
Zidane explained Bale's absence from the pre-season excursion after Tuesday's loss to Spurs, per the Evening Standard's Dan Kilpatrick:
The match kicked off at 6 p.m. CET. The photo was taken two hours later, with Bale teeing off on the 14th hole of a golf course in Boadilla del Monte, a town on the outskirts of Madrid.
Per Keegan, contrary to Zidane's explanation that he was ill, sources suggested the winger did not travel with the squad because he was upset after a proposed move to Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning fell through.
The Mirror's Darren Lewis discussed the issue with former Premier League striker Jay Bothroyd:
There's no love lost between Zidane and Bale, and the former has publicly spoken about his desire for the latter to move on this summer.
Bale's agent, Jonathan Barnett, summarised their situation, per Keegan: "Zidane doesn't like Gareth. There's no relationship between them. There never has been."
In that light, it is perhaps surprising Zidane defended Bale with his comments.
On the other hand, he may want to speak to the player regarding the matter before making a judgment on it.
What's more, the Chinese Super League's transfer window shut on Wednesday. That leaves Bale with few options this summer unless he takes a significant pay cut to go elsewhere because not many sides can match his £600,000 weekly wage.
If the winger ends up remaining at the Santiago Bernabeu, where he still has three years left on his contract, the pair will need to work together in the coming season.