Bale has been more of a super-sub for Real in the past two seasons Image: AFP
It wasn't Cristiano Ronaldo but Gareth Bale, who turned up for Real Madrid on a historic night in Kiev on Sunday, as the Los Blancos completed a hat-trick of UEFA Champions League wins. But Real fans' post-match celebrations for the team's 13th European triumph may have been a little marred after both the talismanic Ronaldo and hero-of-the-night Bale cast a shadow on their respective futures at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Straight after the third successive Champions League title was secured, Ronaldo was talking about Real Madrid in the past tense. Real's biggest star hinted he was unsure he'd stay with the club. But the team's best player in the Champions League final, Gareth Bale, looks more likely to be departing.
"In the next few days I'll give the fans an answer because they are the ones who have always been by my side. It was very beautiful to be with Madrid," Ronaldo said in a post-match interview.
Keeping up the cryptic tone, he added, "The future of any player is not important. We made history."
After soaring to score a magnificent bicycle kick for Madrid's second goal and killing off the game with his second around the 80-minute mark, Bale brought his fans back down to earth with his announcement that he'll discuss his future with his agent this summer.
The Welshman was a substitute in four of seven Champions League games this season, including his super-sub display in the final.
Real coach Zinedine Zidane responded very differently to the two players' comments.
On Ronaldo, Zidane said, "He will stay with us at Real Madrid," and predicted the Portuguese star's tone would soon change. "Perhaps in three or four days' time he might say something else," said the coach.
But on Bale, Zidane offered a more cautious take. "It's a little bit of a complicated situation but everyone has their own interests, their own future to think about. It's true some players deserve more playing time on the pitch but this is a decision that has to be made by the manager," Zizou said.
Where Bale could go is less clear.
Tottenham is widely reported to have a buy-back option as part of Bale's 2013 transfer to Real, but seems highly unlikely to be able to afford his wage bill. Other destinations are unclear, though Manchester United has been reported in the British media as a possible destination.
If he goes back to England this summer, Bale would leave Madrid with a curiously lopsided record of four Champions League titles yet only one in La Liga.
Ronaldo has the same number of Champions League wins and two Spanish titles but his performances have been era-defining in a way Bale's are not.
Even more so than the Welsh player, Ronaldo's future is likely to be determined by the very small number of clubs capable of affording his demands — supposing he actually wants to leave Madrid — and the 33-year-old has never indicated any desire to take a pay cut for the sake of new pastures.
Both would leave Madrid with a rich store of memories. Bale has his moments of genius like Saturday's goal, but is increasingly a super-sub, a player who falls short of the crushingly consistent brilliance of Ronaldo.
(With inputs from AP)