New Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui has backed Gareth Bale to excel for the European champions in the coming season.
Wales international Bale threw his future at the club into doubt just moments after his stunning two-goal, match-winning display in last May’s Champions League final in Kiev.
Bale, who had come on as a substitute, was outstanding in the Champions League final (Nick Potts/PA)
But after a summer of upheaval at the Bernabeu, which has seen Lopetegui replace Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo depart, Bale has remained.
Speaking ahead of the European Super Cup clash against city rivals Atletico Madrid in Tallinn on Wednesday, Lopetegui said at a press conference: “We’ve found Bale really motivated, a top pro, who has trained with the motivation of a youngster.
“We’re a team, the team is the main part. What he can bring to the team is his ability and mentality and we’re convinced he’ll have a great season.”
The match is Real’s first competitive outing under Lopetegui, who was dramatically sacked as Spain coach on the eve of the World Cup in the summer.
Lopetegui was axed by Spain after his controversial appointment by Real Madrid (Adam Davy/PA)
He takes over from Zidane, who stepped down after becoming the first manager to win three successive Champions League titles.
Lopetegui said: “Zidane did a great job here, with amazing success, but we’re thinking about the future and continuing to win trophies. We can’t look to the past, rather we have to look forward and work hard towards it.”
Real face an Atletico side who finished above them in LaLiga last term and also won the Europa League.
Lopetegui said: “It’ll be a tough game both physically and tactically. It’s a final and with these two teams, it’ll bring the best out in each other.”
It is a new era for Real with Ronaldo, their talisman for the last nine years, having moved to Juventus.
Captain Sergio Ramos said: “When you lose such a big player it’s obviously a negative, but Real Madrid’s job is to win and we’ll carry that on without him.”
Another source of intrigue surrounds Thibaut Courtois’ potential debut. The Belgium goalkeeper, signed for £31million from Chelsea last week, had a successful loan at Atleti earlier in his career.
Courtois left Chelsea last week (Mike Egerton/PA)
Whether he plays or not remains to be seen.
“I know who’s playing in goal tomorrow, but I’m not telling you,” said Lopetegui, who also has three-time Champions League winner Keylor Navas in his squad.
Atletico boss Diego Simeone will not be directly involved at the game as he continues to serve the touchline ban imposed on him after his sending off in the Europa League semi-final against Arsenal last season.
Simeone, however, feels his side head into the new season in good shape, particularly with World Cup-winners Antoine Griezmann, Lucas Hernandez and new signing Thomas Lemar in their ranks.
Simeone said: “We were delighted that a lot of our players were in the World Cup final. That works well for us – Griezmann, Lucas and Lemar all come back as champions and they’ll have that desire to carry on winning.”