As Zinedine Zidane made his fifth and final change during Real Madrid's victory over Alavés on Friday night, Gareth Bale was sat unused on the bench.

It's been a common theme since football has returned following its coronavirus-enforced delay, with Bale only playing 100 minutes from a possible 720 since La Liga resumed in early June.

What made this latest snub significant was Bale's reaction. The Wales star was seen slumped on the bench, laughing and pretending to sleep at one point with his face mask covering his eyes.

It is just the latest insidious and acrimonious flashpoint in Bale's seven years with the Spanish giants.

His time with Los Blancos has seen the highest highs - yet problems have never been too far away for Bale at the Bernabéu.

Bale's Spanish rollercoaster ride has had its fair share of twists and turns, but how has it ended up in the seemingly hopeless position it appears to be in now?

ARRIVAL IN MADRID

Bale joined the Spanish giants from Tottenham back in September 2013 after a drawn-out transfer saga which saw him become the world's most expensive player.

However, it wasn't all plain sailing to be begin with.

The man who signed him, club president Florentino Perez, admitted that Brazil star Neymar had been the first-choice option for Real - only for Barcelona to sign him.

Real's Gareth Bale celebrates scoring his side's second goal, during the Champions League final win over Atletico in 2014
Real's Gareth Bale celebrates scoring his side's second goal, during the Champions League final win over Atletico in 2014

"If Neymar had arrived, then I’m sure we wouldn’t have bought Bale," Perez said.

Doubts over Bale were shared by sections of the fanbase and media. One writer claimed Bale didn't know how to play football, but only run.

However, by the end of his first season in Spain, he'd answered a lot of those critics.

A stunning individual goal against El Clasico rivals Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final was followed by the winner in that year's Champions League final, finally bringing home Real's long-awaited La Decima.

A year in and it looked set for Bale to really make his mark at the club.

EARLY SIGNS OF TROUBLE

However, things weren't that simple.

His second season in Spain wasn't a vintage for himself or Real.

The issues which continue to plague him to this day first reared their ugly heads in that second year.

Local media really started to get on his back, with Spanish sports newspaper Marca in particular laying the boot in, dubbing him lazy.

The other complaints levelled at him included his injury record and his apparent inability to speak the language, both easy enough sticks to beat him with, but perhaps not exactly fair.

If the media had their issues, so too did certain sections of the fanbase.

Over the years, they've booed, hissed and pelted Bale's car. Even for a notorious fickle group of supporters, the vitriol has been quite something.

Despite all that noise, Bale's success in terms of medals and honours continued to grow, with Real Madrid winning further Champions League titles in 2016 and 2017.

However, his influence in the side was waning as Zidane, who had replaced Rafa Benitez in 2016, consigned him to the bench more and more.

While he had been Real's driving force in the 2016 Champions League final against Atletico Madrid, he was only handed a 13-minute cameo in the 2017 final - hosted in his hometown of Cardiff.

By the time the 2018 final rolled around and Real had the chance for a third consecutive Champions League title, things were about to come to a head.

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A TROUBLED RELATIONSHIP

Bale's match-winning salvo in the 2018 Champions League final should have been the pinnacle of his time in Madrid.

A brace against Liverpool - the first goal a simply majestic overhead kick - ensured his place in history as Real Madrid won their fourth European crown in five years.

Yet, there were issues bubbling underneath the surface. The previous season, while ending in triumph in Cardiff, had been Bale's worst to date in Spain in terms of returns.

As such, coming into that 2018 final, his stock with Zidane was low - as were his minutes on the pitch. After turning the match on its head, he signalled his intention post-match for something to change.

“Future? I need to be playing week in, week out and that has not happened this season", he said. "I had an injury five, six weeks in but fit ever since. I have to sit down with my agent in the summer and discuss it."

It was widely expected it would be Bale who would fly the nest. Instead, it was Zidane who left. Real's talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, the player Bale had been vying for the limelight with, also departed.

Zinedine Zidane and Gareth Bale's relationship is said to be 'worse than ever'

Having been forced to play in a system suited to Ronaldo's game, rather than the one that he excelled at with Tottenham, this was now Bale's chance to flourish with added freedom.

Except, it didn't quite work out like that. Bale struggled to assert himself with the extra burden of being the talisman, while Real struggled. Panic set in and soon Zidane was back in charge.

The reunion wasn't exactly cordial.

First, Zidane and Bale's agent Jonathan Barnett exchanged sound bites in the press, whether it was about Bale's focus on Los Blancos or some other point of dispute.

Zidane finished the season by dropping Bale before claiming he had refused to play in a pre-season friendly. Zidane also slipped in the fact that the club were looking to get rid.

Barnett, again, responded by slamming Zidane for his treatment of the Welsh star.

"He is a disgrace, he shows no respect for a player that has done so much for Real Madrid," Barnett said.

With Real looking to offload him and relations fraught, the end looked nigh.

WALES. GOLF. MADRID. IN THAT ORDER

With things seemingly only heading one way, a move to China looked to be on the cards last summer.

However, the move fell through after Perez pulled the plug last minute. And so, Bale stayed in Madrid.

But, for a time, everything seemed fine. He started the season in the side and all the noises from Zidane were positive. Even players who had previously criticised Bale in the past, like goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, were full of praise for him.

It wasn't to last.

Last November, Wales qualified for the European Championships. During the celebrations, Bale was handed a Welsh flag with the words "Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order" branded upon it.

It didn't go down well in Spain. Bale's love of golf became the biggest and popular stick for fans and journalists to beat him with.

Wales players celebrate with the "Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order" flag after their win over Hungary

LAUGHING IT OFF

The return of football post-lockdown has done little to help Bale's standing at the club.

ESPN recently reported the feud between Zidane and Bale has become "something personal" between the two.

Bale is thought to be frustrated by his constant omissions from the team, despite his stellar record for the club, while the manager and his staff have reportedly taken umbrage with the manner in which he has reacted to those selection decisions.

Back in February, he was left out of key games such as a Champions League tie against Manchester City and a El Clasico fixture against Barcelona in the same week.

Bale's Real Madrid team-mates are thought to find the whole situation difficult to understand. They appreciate and respect the player's ability and are somewhat baffled by the fact he is selected so infrequently.

They also corroborate the numerous reports that he is a model professional when it comes to training. In fact, he's returned to the club as 'the fittest and fastest' in the squad, according to physical tests.

His agent, Barnett, has largely kept his counsel when it comes to calling out the club - instead insisting that Bale is happy.

And then there are Bale's own actions. From the outside looking in, the Wales international looks like he's done trying to win the approval of the Real Madrid fans who have booed him for the best part of seven years.

During lockdown, he gave interviews about how he didn't understand the vitriol of the Real fanbase or their obsession over his love of golf.

His most recent actions feel like he's even mocking his detractors, whether it's wearing a hat with the word "golf" on it when arriving at the stadium, pulling a golf swing pose in training or pretending to be asleep on the bench.

The situation seems far from ideal for club or player. But Bale seems happy with his lot at the club.

On the one hand, who can blame him? He's won all manner of titles in Spain and is earning more than a decent living in doing so.

It feels like Bale should leave sooner rather than later, but that's arguably been the case for the past year. The odds are it's only going to rumble on.