Robert Page said Real Madrid fans ” showed their class ” after giving Gareth Bale an ovation after their Champions League triumph over Liverpool.
Bale has joined up with Wales manager Page and the squad ahead of June’s crucial set of Nations League and World Cup qualifying play-offs fresh from receiving a rapturous reception from many Real fans when the current La Liga and Champions League winners paraded their trophies at the Bernabeu on Sunday.
Despite being a non-playing substitute at the Stade de France – a symbol of how far his stock has fallen at Real during the final season of his nine-year stay in Spain – Bale became the first British player to win the Champions League on five occasions when Real clinched their 14th European Cup in Paris on Saturday.
Bale has been targeted by Real fans and the Madrid media in recent seasons amid claims he has been more interested in playing golf and for Wales, rather than for the Spanish side, but those differences were put aside when Carlo Ancelotti’s squad paraded the Champions League trophy and the 32-year-old raised his hands in appreciation before signing autographs.
“I thought they showed class and rightly so for what he’s achieved for that football club,” said Page, who revealed Bale had traveled to Wales’ training camp in Portugal before the squad flew to Poland for Wednesday’s Nations League opener.
“You look back at what he’s done, scoring winners in Champions League finals and in the manner in which he’s done it. What an achievement for him personally to be a part of that group of people, that team that’s achieved that, is phenomenal.
“Not many players can say they’ve done that, so credit to him. He deserves all the plaudits, absolutely. He’s in good spirits as he always is. He was adamant he was meeting the players in Portugal to fly to Poland with them , which speaks volumes.
“He wanted to be with the squad as soon as possible. He’s as humble as ever, he’s met up with the group and he’s been first class right away.”
Page on ‘risk and reward’ in Poland
Alongside Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen, Bale is likely to be wrapped in cotton wool in Wroclaw ahead of Wales’ World Cup play-off final with Scotland or Ukraine.
Page is set to name an experimental side given just four days later Wales could qualify for their first World Cup since 1958.
“It’s risk and reward,” Page said on selection. “The biggest game we’ve got is on Sunday and that’s no disrespect to Poland whatsoever. We’re going to show them complete respect, but we’d be mad to jeopardise our top, top players.”
Brennan Johnson is definitely missing as Page has rested him after Nottingham Forest secured promotion to the Premier League on Sunday.
The 21-year-old has had a demanding season having played 60 games for club and country, but Huddersfield winger Sorba Thomas has traveled following his Wembley play-off disappointment.
Page added: “Sorba is slightly different to Brennan, he’s not played as many minutes and had as much football. Credit to him, he got here this morning and he is with the boys for breakfast today, showing that commitment to be with the group right away.
“Brennan’s slightly different. I’ve given a few days [off] after the final. He’s played a lot of football this season. But he’ll be there at the hotel waiting for us on Wednesday night [in Wales] when we fly back, ready for Sunday’s game. ”
‘Bale, Ramsey wrapped in cotton wool ahead of play-off’
Sky Sports News senior reporter Geraint Hughes in Wroclaw, Poland:
Don’t shout too loud, whisper it. Wales would probably prefer not to be playing Poland just days before one of the most important matches in the history of Welsh football and perhaps even Welsh sport.
Sunday’s World Cup play-off final, which is in Cardiff, gives Wales the chance of reaching a World Cup for the first time since 1958. It is also a chance to erase painful memories of missing out on a World Cup by a whisker, games in 1977, 1985 and 1993 spring to mind where Wales just required a positive result, but failed.
So to Wroclaw where Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsay are very much part of the squad here, but given the significance of Sunday’s final and the crucial participation of those two in that game they will not be playing any part in the game against Poland.
I’ve had light hearted back and forth with manager Robert Page over the past few weeks about whether either Bale or Ramsay would step out onto the grass in Wroclaw.
Page has been honest, he’s said ‘no, no chance’ as politely as he can without offending their Polish hosts. He calls it ‘risk versus reward’ – what he means is he cannot in any circumstance play Bale or Ramsay even for five minutes just in case. Just in case they pull a muscle. Just in case someone mistimes a tackle. Just in case an injury to either ends Wales’ chances on Sunday.
The choice of ‘risk versus reward’ is easy to understand. Cotton wool and bubble wrap have also been talked about a fair bit when Bale and Ramsey are the topic of conversation.
You would be a hard person not to understand why Wales just can not risk playing anywhere near a full-strength side against Poland, but it’s a shame.
Unfortunately, Wales are having to play a winner-takes-all final for a ticket to the 2022 World Cup slap bang in the middle of four Nations League Group A games.
That final, against either Ukraine or Scotland should have been played in March. What do you do? Prioritize the Nations League ahead of the World Cup? Er, no!
Wales will line up in Wroclaw with a starting XI of players who with the exception of maybe one or two, will not expect to feature on Sunday.
Poland, who qualified themselves for Qatar 2022 in March, can select a side at leisure knowing full well they will not be tested by Wales as they might have been.
Robert Lewandowski can show off his silky skills and perhaps deadly finishing while looking from the pitch at the Wales bench full of its world-class talent.