MARCA called it the 'umpteenth sign of disrespect', while a hot-take opinion piece by the same Madrid-based publication pettily insisted Gareth Bale would never be a Real Madrid legend.

Too many he probably won't be.

The other major players in the Spanish media didn't seem to find much humour in flag-gate, whipping up the frenzy with words like 'mocks' and 'trolls' for cheap clicks, while gleefully condemning the player for another episode of insubordination.

Host of El Chiringuito TV (a programme it's hard to define precisely for English readers other than to say it's somewhere in between Sunday Supplement, Soccer AM and Arsenal Fan TV - but probably more of the latter) Josep Pedrerol tweeted that Bale's exit is 'confirmed', while later ​calling for the player to 'get out' of Madrid on air.

The show's eccentric contributor and AS journalist Tomas Roncero also tweeted the image with the caption 'I'm going to count to ten...'. Other prominent personalities insisted he should never wear a Real Madrid shirt again.

Meanwhile, Catalan daily SPORT, very much a Barcelona-focussed outlet, even asked if Bale's 'malicious' actions were sanctionable with a club fine. It has since been reported that Madrid won't punish Bale for his actions.

However, Real Madrid didn't tweet or post anything on social media celebrating Bale and Wales' qualification for Euro 2020, while reports suggest the club took the joke - which the player called 'a bit of fun' in very bad taste.

Really though, what does everyone expect at this point?

The joke, the 'bit of fun', was started by Madrid. The words themselves 'Wales. Golf. Madrid.' are from former player and sporting director Pedraj Mijatovic, while the running gag has been going on a long time in Spain.

Gareth Bale

To many, Bale is 'the Golfer', the perma-injured, introverted mercenary who refuses to stay up late for dinner at an Iberian hour and only speaks minimal Spanish.

Back in August El Chiringuito host Pedrerol demanded: “Bale must be sold. Sell him and say ‘thank you’. Because ‘gracias’ he won’t understand.”

The Welshman is fair game for ridicule at every opportunity in the Spanish press and the easiest scapegoat when things aren't going to plan. He watches golf on the team bus, he doesn't do media commitments in Spanish, he leaves the stadium with minutes still on the clock of games he's not playing. Every minor infraction is jumped on with unabated glee.

Even Atletico Madrid and Spain star Saul Ñiguez, in a recent interview with El Larguero, was asked about Bale for seemingly no reason other than another opportunity for mockery and gossip.

Saul, to his credit, batted away remarks about golf and revealed he's only had one meeting with 'super nice guy' Bale, in which they chatted in Spanish

In addition to a fairly insidious media campaign, it's pretty clear to anyone with a working internet connection that Bale isn't wanted by his manager Zinedine Zidane either, who very publicly tried to sell him to China during the summer, only for a deal to be cancelled at the last moment on Florentino Perez's orders.

It's a lonely position for Bale, a true superstar of the game who has won four ​Champions League titles with Madrid, scoring three goals across the four finals - including quite probably the competition's greatest ever strike. He also scored quite probably the best-ever Copa del Rey final goal too.

However, far from letting it destroy him, Bale has taken it all in his long, ranging stride. 

"I've never had a triple bogey in my life!" was ​his comeback to a particular recent headline which referenced the unfavourable golf score. 

Champions League Final 2018

Now 30, the forward just keeps his head down and keeps producing - when he can stay fit. He's scored two in six La Liga outings this season and as much as they may want to move past him and his €15m-a-year salary, Madrid just can't. He is still their best option on the right of a front three and there aren't many better in world football. 

At any other club, Bale would probably be untouchable, immortal. He would have his name and face all over flags, banners and more. But Madrid, as they will tell you themselves, is a special place and things are different.

The fan - also named Gareth - who brought the now-infamous flag to the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday night put it succinctly as he told 90min: "Madrid buy and sell as they please, it’s consumer football, disposable football, and Bale's strength of personality is hard for their fans to grasp when everything in their world is subservient to this colossus of a club. It’s made him the player he is.

Gareth Bale

"He’s loved in Wales. He’ll be remembered here for as long as we play football. Madrid will move on, chew up and spit out talent like they do, but we’ll remember him long after they’ve forgotten about him, like they have Laurie Cunningham. We’ll build a statue of him one day."

Flags are powerful. 'Worth Dying for' is the title of Tim Marshall's 2016 book about the importance of the flag as a symbol. For Bale though, it is not about dying but living.

Playing for Wales gives him freedom, love, life and 'a bit of fun'. With his national team, he's in on the joke. It's one that Madrid will never get.

For more from Andy Headspeath follow him on Twitter