The mercurial Welshman, Gareth Bale, has announced his retirement from all forms of football at the relatively young age of 33.
Known as much for his love of golf as his tolerance of football, Bale still found time to win five Champions League titles and three La Liga winner’s medals, while becoming Wales’ all-time leading goalscorer.
The forward enjoyed a fitting finale to his career when captaining Wales in their first World Cup campaign in six decades back in 2022, although he vowed to play on and was expected to see out the last year of his contract at club side Los Angeles FC, who he helped to the MLS title last term.
However, Bale has confirmed his immediate retirement from the beautiful game via his Twitter feed, writing:
“After careful and thoughtful consideration, I announce my immediate retirement from club and international football.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to have realised my dream of playing the sport I love. The highest of highs over 17 seasons, that will be impossible to replicate, no matter what the next chapter has in store for me.”
— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) January 9, 2023
Wales. Golf. Madrid.
When Bale made his debut as a slip-of-a-lad for Southampton aged 16, few could have predicted the career that followed.
He was nominally a left back by trade, in contrast to the goals he would plunder later on in his career, and despite being blessed with pace to burn he lacked the final product that is the trademark of elite players in the final third of the pitch.
But Tottenham saw plenty in him, paying just £5 million to secure the services of the 18-year-old. It’s a move that would lay the foundation for the successes that would follow for the Welshman.
Some 146 appearances later, Bale had plundered 42 goals, created countless assists and twice been named in the UEFA Team of the Year, and so good was he that Real Madrid forked out £85 million for his services in 2013 – that, at the time, was a world record transfer fee.
His time in Spain was characterised by a love-hate relationship with the club’s fans, which wasn’t exactly aided by a flag, which Bale wrapped around himself after securing qualification to Euro 2020 with his national team, that read: ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In That Order’.
Even so, he spent nine years in Madrid and enjoyed plenty of success, winning stacks of silverware as he notched 81 goals for the Galacticos.
His finest moment, perhaps, came with the gravity-defying overhead kick that won Real the 2018 Champions League final against Liverpool, although the late goal that won the 2014 Copa del Rey final against bitter rivals Barcelona must be right up there too.
“Real Madrid want to show their thanks, admiration and love for a great legend of our club and world football,” a club spokesperson said.
“Gareth Bale was part of our team in one of the most successful eras in our history, and will represent forever many of the brightest moments of the past decade.”
By his own admission, Bale’s happiest days in football came while wearing the red shirt of Wales. He is the nation’s all-time leading goalscorer and cap-holder, having made some 111 appearances.
If nothing else, at least he will have more time to devote to golf now….