Gareth Bale faces a race against time to be fit for Tottenham Hotspur's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Real Madrid on Tuesday week having being forced to withdraw from the Wales squad for Saturday's Euro 2012 qualifier against England with a hamstring strain.
The injury, which is a severe blow to Wales's hopes of causing an upset at the Millennium Stadium, came to light after Bale complained of tightness in his hamstring during a warm-up on Tuesday. When the 21-year-old winger was unable to take part in training on Wednesday, Wales sent him for a scan which revealed he had been carrying the injury at Spurs the previous week.
Bale played 90 minutes against West Ham United on Saturday but that was his first full game since 16 January, having been sidelined with a back problem for six weeks. He was struggling with his hamstring towards the end of that time and Spurs will be anxious that the latest setback could threaten his involvement at the Bernabéu.
Gary Speed, however, tried to offer a more positive prognosis. The Wales manager said Bale could feature against Real Madrid and also claimed that his decision to declare him unfit for the England game had reduced the risk of him picking up a serious injury that could have ended his season. "The decision was made last night as soon as we got the scan," said the Wales manager. "I think you can tell on the scans now with the fluid and blood that he was injured from last week. I'm no expert, but I'm sure it's only a 10-day thing."
Speed could have been forgiven for questioning the wisdom of Harry Redknapp's decision to keep Bale on the pitch throughout the game against West Ham, although he seemed determined to avoid becoming embroiled in a club versus country row with the Spurs manager.
There had been the potential for a major fall-out on Thursday morning, when Raymond Verheijen, the Wales assistant manager, wrote "the incompetent amateurs struck again" on his Twitter page. Spurs reacted angrily to Verheijen's comments, believing they were directed at them for their handling of the injury, but both the Dutchman and Speed have since clarified that he was referring to a newspaper article that incorrectly suggested Bale had strained his hamstring during training for Wales.
"It was a total misunderstanding. In no way did that refer to Tottenham," said Speed. "I can understand how it might be portrayed but I think the fact that it was reported that he did his hamstring in training on Wednesday, that was the incompetent bit." Asked whether he had told Verheijen, who in the past has used Twitter to voice his disapproval of Roberto Mancini's training methods at Manchester City, to rein in his comments, Speed replied: "Absolutely. It's caused an unnecessary problem but we've talked about it and nipped it in the bud. There will be no more tweeting of that sort."
Aware of the problems international managers have had with their club counterparts in the past, Speed seemed keen to keep Redknapp onside and build bridges with Tottenham. "We don't put any blame on Spurs. [Bale] was fit to play 90 minutes and played 90 minutes. He came to us, and maybe if we hadn't been so thorough in our testing, he may have played. But what we don't want is for him to play and then pull up and put himself out for the season. The player's welfare is of paramount importance and that's what's happened."
Speed did, though, reveal that Bale, who will continue to receive treatment in Wales, would have preferred to delay the decision. "He wanted to wait and see if he could give it a go," he said. "But the nature of the strain showed up on the scan. Although England is a huge game and we would want Gareth in, we don't want to be putting him back for the rest of the season. Spurs also have some massive games coming up."
The Wales manager described Bale's absence as a "big blow", although he added: "Any team in the world would miss a Gareth Bale but between now and the next three and a half years we're going to miss players, and if Wales are going to achieve anything we're going to have to cope. We've had a great week training and the lads are really up for it so it's not the end of the world."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010