The Welsh men’s football captain Gareth Bale, their record goalscorer and most capped player, has announced his immediate retirement from the game, aged just 33, having enjoyed a career which took him from Southampton to Real Madrid, via Tottenham Hotspur, whilst turning out for his country over a hundred times.
The Cardiff-born, five-time Champions League winner, informed the football world of his decision through his social media account and comes just over a month after his international career came to an end at Wales’ first appearance at a World Cup in 64 years; although that was tinged with disappointment after they tamely bowed out of the Qatar tournament, with a comprehensive defeat at the hands of fierce rivals England.
He made 554 club appearances, scoring 186 goals, and won 111 caps for his country, contributing 41 goals.
Stunning free-kicks make others sit up and take notice
His Southampton debut came as a 16-year-old in April 2006, followed a month later by his first Welsh appearance in a friendly against Trinidad & Tobago. Then in the opening game of the 2006/07 Championship season, in an away fixture at Derby County’s impressive Pride Park Stadium, in front of a famously passionate and intimidating home crowd – and starting only his second professional game, having just turned 17 – he curled an unstoppable free-kick into the top corner of the net from fully 25-yards, to earn his side a point.
Three days later he repeated the act, this time from 30 yards and he was suddenly the hottest property outside of the Premier League. He scored yet another of what would become his trademark free-kicks, just a couple of months later, this time as his first goal in a Wales shirt.
Making a name at Spurs before record transfer
He joined Spurs at the end of that season for a fee reportedly worth around £10m. He was though still at that time playing predominately as a left back; but it was when he moved further forward that his career went off the scale. His blistering pace, direct running, and thunderous shooting frightened the life out of opposition defenders. However, it was a hat-trick away to Inter Milan, which finally catapulted him to the attention of Europe’s elite and he eventually secured a world record move to Real Madrid in a deal believed to be for more than £80m, in 2013.
Great success in Madrid but never truly accepted
His time in the Spanish capital brought mixed fortunes for him; winning 5 Champions League titles, including one against Liverpool when he scored with an astonishing bicycle kick; three League titles; as well as numerous cup successes. Nevertheless, indifferent form and a run of injuries saw him in and out of the team and his popularity with the fans rapidly declined.
One last trophy
He returned to Spurs on loan for the 2021/22 season, but failed to command a regular start and last summer joined up with Major League Soccer club Los Angeles FC, who he helped lift the MLS Cup for the first time in their history when scoring a last-minute equaliser, to take the game to penalties, and eventual victory.
Always saved best form for the Welsh
Of course it was with his country that he seemed to reserve his best form, basically carrying the Welsh to the semi-finals of the 2016 Euros in France all on his own, and then securing them a spot at the 2022 World Cup, although his disappointing performances, possibly signalled to him that his influence on top games was no longer there to the standard he had previously displayed, and may well have played a big part in his decision to leave the game now, still at a relatively early age.
Thanks to ex managers and teammates
He announced his intention to quit after what he described as “careful and thoughtful consideration”. He said that he felt incredibly fortunate to have realised his dream of playing the sport he loved and that it had given him some of the best moments of his life. He said he was indebted to many people for shaping his career, thanking his previous clubs, the managers and coaches he had played for and the teammates he had played along side.
Family support keeps him grounded
There was a mention to the supporters at all his clubs and an acknowledgement to his agents, before saving a special thank you for his family and friends. His wife and children’s support he said had carried him through and kept him grounded: “You inspire me to be better and to make you proud, ” but his special message was for his parents and his sister: “Without your dedication in the early days, without such a strong foundation, I would not be writing this statement right now, so thank you for putting me on this path and for your unwavering support.”
On to new adventures
He said he moves on now with anticipation to the next stage of his life, calling it a time of change in transition and opportunity for a new adventure; although he gave no indication as to what that next chapter might be.