GARETH BALE – THE TITLES AND TROPHIES THAT PUT WALES ON THE MAP
Gareth Bale's contribution in the colours of Cymru is immeasurable and he will forever be regarded as the greatest-ever by the Red Wall having defined an era of success that delivered appearances at two EURO finals and a long-awaited return to the World Cup.
Announcing his retirement from professional football in a statement on Monday afternoon, Bale's former clubs also paid tribute to his achievements in the club game both domestically and in Europe. The only British player in history to win five UEFA Champions League titles, Bale's place in football folklore is not restricted to the boundaries of his home nation.
Bale made an immediate impression for club and country as the teenager's debut for Southampton in April 2006 was quickly followed by John Toshack awarding him his first senior international cap the following month. Bale's subsequent success with Cymru would lead to him becoming the all-time leading appearance holder and goalscorer.
Signing for Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2007, Bale had a quiet start to life at White Hart Lane until he was unshackled from his defensive responsibilities in a more attacking role. It brought the very best out of him over the course of the next few years and he would make headlines in Europe with a memorable display against Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League, scoring his first professional hat-trick.
Named PFA Players' Player of the Year in 2011 and 2013, Bale had become one of the most-talked about players in Europe by the time Real Madrid tabled a world-record offer for his services. The move was completed in August 2013, and flanked by his family he was unveiled at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Over the next nine years, Bale would win 16 major honours with the club from the Spanish capital, including five UEFA Champions League trophies and three FIFA Club World Cups. His incredible overhead kick against Liverpool in the 2018 final is regarded as one of the competitions greatest-ever goals and epitomised everything about his physical power and technical ability. Bale would score twice from the substitutes bench in that famous 3-1 victory.
“Gareth Bale was part of our team during one of the most successful periods in our history,” said a statement from Real Madrid on Monday. “He will long be remembered for his involvement in some of the most remarkable moments of the past decade, including his unforgettable run in the 2014 Copa del Rey final in Valencia, his crucial goal in the 2014 Champions League final in Lisbon, and his brace in the 2018 Champions League final in Kiev, most notably the bicycle kick which will live forever in the minds of football lovers around the globe. His name will be forever bound to our club's history and its legend. Good luck, Gareth, and all the best to you and your family.”
Following a return to Spurs on-loan, Bale would end his career in the United States with Los Angeles FC, and he would sign out by scoring the equalising goal in the MLS Cup Final against Philadelphia Union in November. His side would claim the trophy in the resulting penalty shoot-out as Bale prepared to fulfil his outstanding ambition of representing Cymru at the World Cup Finals.
“We want to thank Gareth for everything he brought to our Club,” said LAFC Co-President and General Manager John Thorrington. “He arrived here with a goal to win championships in L.A., and, like he has done everywhere else in his career – he succeeded. It was an honour to have one of the most talented, dynamic and exciting players of his generation finish his career with a title for LAFC, and we wish Gareth, his wife Emma, and their family nothing but the best in their future endeavours.”
During his entire club career, Bale scored 185 goals from 553 appearances while he would also score 41 goals for Cymru in 111 games. What stands him above his peers is the number of iconic, brilliant and crucial goals that will ultimately define his career when people fortunate to have witnessed his contribution to the game reflect on what he delivered.
Cymru fans will not need to be reminded about his importance to the national team, but it was his status as a world-wide superstar that also put his country on the map. All around the world, Bale has become synonymous with Wales as a nation. We have produced many great stars and athletes, but few can match with world-wide recognition afforded to the boy from Whitchurch.