Gareth Bale hit back at "malicious" criticism from Spanish media on Friday, saying an article in Madrid-based paper Marca was a "piece of slanderous, derogatory and speculative journalism".
Marca called the Welsh captain a "parasite" and accused him of faking a back injury that kept him out of Real Madrid's humiliating loss to Barcelona at the weekend, four days before he scored both goals in Wales's win over Austria in its World Cup playoff game.
"At a time where people are taking their own lives because of the callousness and relentless of the media, I want to know, who is holding these journalists and the news outlets that allow them to write articles like this, accountable?" Bale asked in a statement on his social media accounts.
"Fortunately I have developed a thick skin but that doesn't mean articles like these don't cause damage and upset those at the receiving end of these malicious stories," he said.
The Welsh captain helped his team to beat Austria 2-1 on Thursday to put itself into a playoff final, against Scotland or Ukraine, for a place in the World Cup finals in Qatar later this year in what would be its first appearance at the tournament since 1958.
The 32-year-old Bale has played only a handful of games at Real Madrid this season and Spanish media criticised him for missing the side's 4-0 home loss in the Clasico on Sunday with an apparent back injury.
Marca ran a headline on Friday calling Bale "The Welsh parasite" and columnist Manuel Julia criticised his work ethic at Real.
"He settled in Spain, at Real Madrid, where he sucks the blood (and the euros) of his host without giving anything in return. Unlike others of its kind, such as the flea, the louse or the bedbug, the Parasite Bale does not cause itching or diseases, he just laughs with jocular contempt in a humiliating ceremony, which, luckily, has an expiration date, like all misfortunes," Julia wrote.
Diario AS said the winger had played only four of Real's 29 league games this season and did not attend the Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu to support his colleagues.
"Bale. Go. Home. Now. In that order," read the headline on a column by AS editor-in-chief Tomas Roncero.
"Last night he rose again, as a kind of Braveheart of the country of the Dragon with a formidable performance. Real Madrid would be proud of him if it weren't for the fact that four days ago he left the team stranded, alluding to a false back injury, and miserably erased himself from the Clasico against Barca."
Bale is in the final year of his contract with Real, after joining them in 2013, and spent last season on loan at Tottenham Hotspur. His recent time in Spain has been blighted by injury.
Asked after the Austria game if he had a message for his critics, Bale said: "No. I don't need to send a message. It's a waste of my time; it’s disgusting and they should all be ashamed of themselves."
Bale, whose season has been repeatedly disrupted by injury, added in his statement: "I have witnessed the toll the media can take on people's mental and physical health.
"I hope that by the time our children are of an age where they are able to ingest news, that journalism ethics and standards will have been enforced more stringently."
Barcelona-based Mundo Deportivo said: "With Wales sure he delivers. Neither discomfort nor pain, Bale showed with his national team what his priorities are."
The second playoff semi-final, between Scotland and Ukraine, has been postponed until June because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Bale's contract with Real expires in June.
- WPL 2024: All-round show helps Delhi Capitals thrash UP Warriorz by nine wickets for season’s first win
- Hard work, determination and a bit of kismet: For RCB’s Asha Sobhana, WPL is just the start
- Indian sports wrap, February 26
- NBA: Clippers unveil new uniforms, logo for next season
- Bayern Munich signs Max Eberl as sporting director