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The Wales boss fears a lack of pre-season training means the world-record signing faces a tough start to life at the Santiago Bernabeu and may not hit top form until next year

Wales manager Chris Coleman believes Gareth Bale may struggle this season due to a lack of pre-season training following his world-record transfer from Tottenham to Real Madrid this summer.

Since his arrival, the Welsh winger has only played three games and has been sidelined in recent matches with a thigh injury and a reported back problem.

The 24-year-old will miss Wales' final World Cup qualifier against Belgium on Tuesday and Coleman has warned the €100 million star may not hit his stride until after Christmas.

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"I took a lot of criticism in the last camp against Macedonia and Serbia for not playing Gareth. Why would I not play him if he was fit?" Coleman told reporters.

"He had no pre-season training. Anyone who has played top-level professional football will know that if you have no pre-season and expect to pick up where you finished the season before then you are bonkers and crackers.

"It doesn’t happen. You can’t miss a whole pre-season. It takes time.

"He’s a super player and athlete, but you can’t just switch it on and off. It doesn’t matter how good you are. When you have missed all of pre-season then you are always playing catch-up."

The Group A clash at King Baudouin Stadium – which will be Craig Bellamy’s final game before retirement – could also be Coleman’s final game in charge following a failure to agree a new contract.

He added: "It's a big decision and I'm torn. I'd love to be the man to lead us to a major finals but the unrealistic expectations and frustration of not having all the players makes me think, 'Do I want that again?'

"It's the big carrot that is dangling ahead of me."