The abiding image to come out of Spanish football this week wasn't a goal or a stunning save. It was the sight of Gareth Bale fleeing the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium like a rat from a sinking ship.
The Wales international is out injured again—it's the 23rd injury of his Real Madrid career—so he was watching his team play Real Sociedad in La Liga from the comfort of the stands.
Madrid were losing 1-0—before eventually going down 2-0—when Bale decided he'd had enough. He jumped in his car and disappeared unseen into the night. Or so he thought. Late-night Spanish football television programme El Chiringuito caught him on film.
With 78 minutes gone in the match, he was filmed driving away from the stadium. The programme's footage zeroed in on the winger—recognisable with his hands on the wheel—hightailing it.
The optics were terrible. Where was the solidarity from Bale with his team-mates who were sweating the jersey? Is this the man, dubbed sardonically by the Spanish press as "The Cardiff Express" and the most expensive player in the club's history, who is going to rescue their season? It doesn't look like it.
The 29-year-old is directly linked to the gravest problem facing Real Madrid this season—their inability to score goals since Cristiano Ronaldo's departure. In the absence of Ronaldo, who scored 450 goals during nine seasons at the club before leaving for Juventus last summer, Madrid's failure to score goals has left them 10 points behind Barcelona in the league table.
Barcelona's Leo Messi and Luis Suarez (28) combined have scored more goals in La Liga this season than Real Madrid (26). A quarter of a century has passed since Madrid scored so few goals in a league campaign. It's Bale's job, as heir apparent to Ronaldo, to fix the problem.
Zinedine Zidane, who surprisingly stepped down as head coach five days after winning last season's UEFA Champions League, disagreed with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez over the futures of Bale and Ronaldo.