KIEV, Ukraine — Straight after a third successive Champions League title was secured, Cristiano Ronaldo was talking about Real Madrid in the past tense.
Real’s biggest star hinted he was unsure he’d stay with the club. Its best player in the Champions League final, Gareth Bale, looks more likely to be departing.
"In the next few days I’ll give the fans an answer because they are the ones who have always been by my side," Ronaldo said. "It was very beautiful to be with Madrid."
Keeping up the cryptic tone, he added: "The future of any player is not important. We made history."
After soaring to score a magnificent bicycle kick for Madrid’s second goal, Bale brought his fans back down to earth with his announcement that he’ll discuss his future with his agent this summer.
The Welshman was a substitute in four of seven Champions League games this season, including his super-sub display in the final.
Real coach Zinedine Zidane responded very differently to the two players’ comments.
On Ronaldo, Zidane was clear Sunday: "He will stay with us at Real Madrid," and predicted the Portuguese star’s tone would soon change. "Perhaps in three or four days’ time he might say something else."
On Bale, Zidane was circumspect.
"It’s a little bit of a complicated situation but everyone has their own interests, their own future to think about," he said. "It’s true some players deserve more playing time on the pitch but this is a decision that has to be made by the manager."
Where Bale could go is less clear.
Tottenham is widely reported to have a buy-back option as part of Bale’s 2013 transfer to Real, but seems highly unlikely to be able to afford his wage bill. Other destinations are unclear, though Manchester United has been reported in British media as a possible destination.
If he goes back to England this summer, Bale would leave Madrid with a curiously lopsided record of four Champions League titles yet only one in La Liga.
Ronaldo has the same number of Champions League wins and two Spanish titles but his performances have been era-defining in a way Bale’s are not.
Even more so than the Welsh player, Ronaldo’s future is likely to be determined by the very small number of clubs capable of affording his demands — supposing he actually wants to leave Madrid — and the 33-year-old has never indicated any desire to take a pay cut for the sake of pastures new.
Both would leave Madrid with a rich store of memories. Bale has his moments of genius like Saturday’s goal, but is increasingly a super-sub, a player who falls short of the crushingly consistent brilliance of Ronaldo.