Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos has spoken out in support of Gareth Bale's quality, despite the Wales international being regularly linked with a move away from the club in the summer.
Bale's days at the Santiago Bernabeu appeared to be numbered ahead of the campaign when manager Zinedine Zidane said during pre-season that "we hope he leaves soon." A proposed transfer to Chinese Super League club Jiangsu Suning looked like the Welshman's route away from Madrid, although the deal collapsed.
Speaking about his team-mate, Ramos talked up Bale's importance for the upcoming season and dismissed any notion that the forward's interest in golf is an issue, per Amitai Winehouse of the MailOnline:
"I think Bale's a great player, and he's been really important for the club in the years he's been with us. You find many things in the press. Some are true, some are not. We live in this world and we have to try to be above all that.
"Regarding what has been said about Gareth, I think time puts everything in place. Regardless of what each player does in his personal life, I think it should be respected and not even talked about. We're free to do what we want with our free time.
"Of course, professionally, you owe yourself to a team, to a club, and you try to be as honest as possible. Afterwards, it's up to each person to go home with a clear conscience or not."
Ramos is regarded as one of the finest defenders in Real Madrid's history and recently reached a landmark for his country during the international break:
Per Winehouse, Bale is said to be nicknamed "The Golfer" by some in the Madrid dressing room due to his love of the sport.
Bale has started the first three games of the La Liga season for Los Blancos. He was key in helping Madrid to a 2-2 draw at Villarreal with two goals although blemished his day with a late red card:
The 30-year-old kept up his good form at the start of the campaign with the winning goal for Wales in their recent 2-1 triumph over Azerbaijan:
Madrid are without the likes of Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio and Isco due to injuries, meaning Zidane has little choice but to field Bale. After starting the campaign well, it will be interesting to see whether he is able to keep his place in the side.
After all, Bale is still a force when at his best. His crossing from the left flank has been pinpoint, while his aerial ability, shooting from distance and speed make him a big threat in the final third.
Despite being among the goals, Bale doesn't appear content, having recently said he is "not playing happy" at the Santiago Bernabeu. With that in mind, speculation regarding his future at the club will likely continue up until the January window opens.