Gareth Bale has carried the hopes of a nation on his back since he first appeared on the international scene. A true generational talent certainly has had his ups and downs, but will be remembered as one of the greats. The amount of Wales to win 1-0 bets I’ve won thanks to him, is one of the many reasons he’s one of my heroes.
The early years
Gareth Frank Bale was born 16th of July 1989 in Cardiff, sunny Wales. He attended Whitchurch High School and excelled in a number of sports playing football alongside future Welsh rugby captain Sam Warburton. Bale was signed by Southampton youth in 1999 and made his professional debut 7 years later, aged 16 years and 275 days becoming the youngest player ever to play for Southampton. 4 of Gareth’s first 5 goals were free kicks, quickly establishing himself as a clinical set piece taker.
The first big move
Having impressed in Southampton, it was only a matter of time before Bale was going to be picked up by one of the main premier league clubs. Tottenham Hotspur On the 25th of May 2007, signed future 2 time PFA player’s player of the year for an initial fee of £5 million. Making an instant impact, Bale scored in a 3-3 draw on only his second appearance versus Fulham. He then went on to score a free kick in 3-1 loss in his first North London Derby. On the 2nd of December 2007 following a tackle from Fabrice Muamba, Bale suffered ligament damage to his right ankle finishing his 07/08 campaign.
Bale didn’t return to fitness until August 2008 where he then went on to play 30 times in all competitions, although unable to win a premier league game since joining. After undergoing knee surgery, Bale made his comeback on the 26th of September. As an 85th minute sub while Spurs were 5-0 up, manager Harry Redknapp gave Bale the chance to break his losing streak to win his first game in the premier league, which he did and never looked back.
On October 20th 2010 Bale put himself at the forefront of world football, against none other than the current European champions Inter Milan in the San Siro. After conceding 4 goals and going down to 10 men within the first 35 minutes, Spurs were looking for a saviour. Bale then went on to score his first ever senior hat-trick and give hope of making it through to the next round. He then set up 2 goals in the return leg to help Spurs famously qualify for the next round, earning the man of the match on the way.
Gareth then went on to win multiple honours including 3 x Welsh footballer of the year, x2 PFA player’s player of the year, PFA young player of the year, FWA player of the year and Premier league player of the season. He left Spurs having played 146 games and scoring 42 goals in all competitions. Not bad at all.
Gareth the Galactico?
Becoming one of the best footballers on the planet, Gareth moved to Real Madrid for a then world record fee of £85.1 million. Bale instantly started repaying his fee with a debut goal against Villarreal. Unfortunately from then on he was plagued with injuries, playing only 5 full games out of the next 16, which very soon would start to become a pattern.
Bale’s first El Classico didn’t go quite to plan as he was subbed in the 61st minute. The media were quick to criticise him. Bale then went on to silence the critics for the first of what was to become many times, scoring 2 goals and assisting 2 goals in a 7-3 demolishing of Sevilla. The next month Bale then went on to score his first perfect hat-trick in a 4-0 victory over Real Valladolid, scoring with his head, right foot and his left foot.
On April 16th 2014, Copa del Rey final versus rivals Barcelona. Bale scored in my opinion his best goal for Real Madrid (I’ve managed to erase his Champions League goal versus Liverpool out of my memory). Running from the half way line knocking the ball passed Marc Bartra, who even after pushing him off the pitch was helpless to the pure strength and pace Bale possesses. Bale then calmly slotting the ball passed the keeper, sealing the win for his first trophy at his new club.
One winning goal in a final that season wasn’t enough for Bale. Just 5 weeks after scoring in the Copa del Rey final, the biggest match of club football took place, the UEFA Champions League final. The game finished deadlock at 1-1 after 90 minutes, and it wasn’t until the 110th minute for Bale to be in the right place at the right time. Di Maria slalomed through the Athletico Madrid back line and fired a shot only to be saved by Courtois, who could only deflect it into the path of Bale who headed in the rebound becoming the first ever Welshman to score in a Champions League final. Real Madrid went on to win comfortably 4-1 and secure their 10th Champions League trophy.
Bale started the 14/15 campaign in good form scoring in yet another final, the Fifa Club World Cup in December 2014. The turning point for Bale at Madrid started against Espanyol at the start of 2015. Scoring a goal instead of passing to Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale was booed by a section of Madrid fans for being selfish. Although he was defended by manager Carlo Ancelotti it was to only get worse for the man from the valleys. Unfortunately for Bale he then started picking up multiple injuries. New manager Zinedine Zidane, only managed to get 19 games out of Bale for his first season in charge.
The relationship between Gareth and the Madrid fans only went one way from this point onwards, downhill. With injury after injury, the Madrid fan’s frustration grew as their now star man was constantly out of action. After returning from injuries, Bale was spending a lot of the time on the bench as it seemed his time was up. The way that Bale had been treated in Madrid by the fans and manager Zidane in my opinion is disgusting. This guy has more medals for Madrid than Zidane, Beckham and Figo but to name a few. He’s scored in multiple finals and come up clutch in crucial moments. From the outside looking in, it seemed that nothing he did was good enough. Madrid were looking for someone to replace the loss of the second best player in the world Ronaldo, Bale was never going to be that.
On the 19th of September 2020, Bale returned on loan to Tottenham Hotspurs. Having started off slow with a few small injuries, Bale came off the bench to score the winner versus Brighton & Hove Albion. A month later Bale scored his 200th career goal in the Europa League versus LASK. Still lacking the quality he had shown in the previous years, he then went on to score 6 goals in 6 games looking back to his best. What happens after this season is still unclear but it’s doubtful he will play for Madrid again.
The Welsh Messiah
Now it’s time to talk about how this one man has completely turned around a national football team. I remember going to watch Wales play and going away happy with a 1-1 draw to Macedonia. Gareth has completely changed every Welsh persons mind set on international football. Breaking the youngest ever player record at 16 years and 315 days old, it was clear that he was going to help Wales rise from the ashes. Qualification after qualification it looked as if even Gareth couldn’t help get Wales to a major tournament. This all changed on the 13th of October 2015. Gareth scored his seventh goal of the campaign helping Wales to beat Andorra 2-0, qualifying them to their first major tournament since 1958.
I can happily say The Euro’s 2016 was the best 4 weeks of my life as a proud Welshman as I’m sure many others will agree. Going into the tournament I was just happy we got their and to enjoy the ride whatever happened. Little was I to know we’d make it to the semi-finals!
Bale of course scoring the first goal for Wales, from a free kick to contribute to a 2-1 win over Slovakia. Next up was the noisy neighbours, England who qualify for nearly every tournament without fail. With the likes of Kane, Sterling and Rooney we were always the underdogs. Bale however had a different idea scoring yet another free kick, putting Wales 1-0 up against one of the top ranked teams in the world. The rest of the game didn’t quite go to plan conceding in stoppage time at the end of the second half to lose 2-1.
Wales went into the 3rd group match versus Russia needing to at least take a point to keep the last 16 hopes alive. Making it look easy Wales went on to win 3-0 with of course Bale scoring, becoming the all-time top goal scorer in major tournaments for his nation. Wales ended up TOP of the group after England failing to beat Slovakia.
After scraping through the last 16 we got ourselves a date with The Red Devils, Belgium in the quarter finals. After going down 1-0 early on it was going to be a miracle to get anything from this game. Wales went on to put in an ultimate team display coming back, beating one of the best teams in the world 3-1. Making it to the semi-finals of the first major tournament we’d entered in 58 years was beyond everyone’s wildest dreams, although eventually losing to the winners Portugal. This campaign will forever be remembered for many reasons and a large number of them will involve the magician, Gareth Bale.
Life without Bale
Of course all good things come to an end and sooner or later Bale will announce his retirement. When we look back on his career in 20 years’ time, I have no doubt that Bale will be considered as one of the best ever to play football let alone for Wales. The accolades Gareth has for club, and what he’s managed to achieve with Wales has cemented his name in football history. With the no more international football until the Euro’s, I for one am praying that Bale will be fit for it as he is the difference in every game he plays. Whether he’s there or not, what he’s done for Wales will be remembered forever. Diolch Gareth.