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Gareth Bale retirement: Wales great who conquered Europe

Wales legend Gareth Bale has confirmed his retirement from football, calling time on a career in which he has often dominated on the domestic, European and global stage.

The greatest Welsh footballer of his generation, and arguably of all time, the 33-year-old played a men's record 111 times for his country, scoring 41 times, another male benchmark.

Bale also shone at club level, coming through the ranks at Southampton before joining Tottenham and going on to sign for Real Madrid for a then-world record fee in 2013.

Unfortunately, injury and in-fighting plagued his final few years at the Bernabeu and he saw out his career with a short stint in the MLS at LAFC.

Despite his late La Liga struggles, he more than played a part in at least two of his three La Liga titles, a Copa del Rey win and more significantly, Real's Champions League domination and arguably inspired the current generation of British talent to seek opportunities abroad.

After struggling to inspire Wales at the World Cup in Qatar, the 33-year-old has decided to call time on what has been a spectacular career for both club and country.

In a statement on social media, he said: "After careful and thoughtful consideration, I announce my immediate retirement from club and international football," Bale said.

"I feel incredibly fortunate to have realised my dream of playing the sport I love."

From Southampton to Spurs

Bale started his career at Southampton and came through with a fine group of players. Future Premier League regulars David McGoldrick, Nathan Dyer and Leon Best were all with him in the squad that reached the final of the FA Youth Cup in 2004/05.

However, the headline stars looking at that crop were Theo Walcott and Adam Lallana, who, to date, have won a combined 81 caps for England.

In fairness, Bale was used to being around greatness from a young age, having shared a secondary school classroom with future British & Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton.

After becoming Saints' second-ever youngster player behind Walcott when he made his debut in April 2006, it was the following season in which he really broke through, helping the club to the Championship playoffs.

Totteham soon came calling but Bale's transition to the Premier League was not easy. In fact, it took him 25 top-flight games to record his first win, replacing Aaron Lennon for the final six minutes of the 5-0 win over Burnley in September 2009.

However, he would go on to be a star for Spurs under Harry Redknapp and then Andre Villas-Boas before Real Madrid came calling.

Record-breaking Welshman

A global star deserves a world record fee and after protracted negotiations between Daniel Levy and Florentino Perez, the two ironed out a reported €100 million deal for his signature.

As if following a script, Bale scored on his debut away at Villarreal and brought trophies, netting an incredible winner in the 2013/14 Copa del Rey final. Picking up the ball around the halfway line, he sprinted around Barcelona's Marc Bartra, with part of his charge being off the pitch, before slotting past Jose Antonio Pinto.

He then netted in the Champions League final as Real beat local rivals Atletico in stoppage time to claim the club's by then mythical 10th European Cup, dubbed 'La Decima'.

That would be the first of five he would win at the Bernabeu but friction between himself and Zinedine Zidane and doubt over his attitude limited his game time, something he publicly questioned when interviewed after scoring twice off the bench to beat Liverpool in 2018.

A spell back on loan at Tottenham in 2020/21 could not heal the wounds and after making just five La Liga appearances last season under Carlo Ancelotti, he went Stateside.

MLS for a World Cup warm up

Bale knew that with Wales' first World Cup for 64 years in the offing, he had to be playing and LAFC gave him that chance.

Typically his golden touch continued in the USA as he helped the team to win their first MLS Cup, scoring a 128th-minute header to send the match to penalties as his team defeated Philadelphia Union on spot-kicks.

It would be his last action for LAFC but he was ready for the World Cup where he would captain the side. After grabbing crucial qualifying goals against Austria and Ukraine, albeit the latter via Andriy Yarmolenko, Bale became the first Welshman to score at the global showpiece since 1958 when he hammered home a penalty in the 1-1 draw against the USA.

However, it was not to be as Robert Page's men fell in the pool stages, with Bale's record 111th and final cap coming in the closing 3-0 Group B defeat to England.

As his career went on Bale, often saved his best for his country, including helping to guide them to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 and the last 16 of Euro 2020.

Page will now need to find fresh inspiration, with his side 7/2 in the Euro 2024 Qualifying Group D betting behind 10/11 Croatia and 15/8 Turkey.

Evolution of a star

For many, Bale's ability to adapt and excel is the epitome of the modern footballer. He came through at Southampton primarily as a left-back, the role he featured in early in his Spurs career.

However, Redknapp's decision to play him further forward brought out the best in the tyro as he terrorised defenders down the Tottenham left with his incredible combination of pace, power and skill.

His influence on the team became so great that Redknapp's successor Villas-Boas often preferred him on the right where he could cut in and unleash one of his trademark dipping shots, or even centrally so that he could get closer to the goal.

Bale's final season at Spurs under AVB was when he finally realised his potential, netting 26 goals in all competitions before swapping the white of Tottenham for the blanco of Real where he usually dazzled on the right, excelling alongside Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo as part of the famous 'BBC' frontline.

As he got older Bale often featured prominently for club and country as a central striker or number 10.

A modern great

One of the doubts over Bale in his younger years was what position he would be best suited to. Turns out he could play them all!

Bale can retire with his head held high. In his pomp, few defenders could live with, and even fewer attackers could emulate his speed, strength and sublime skill.

He will rightly go down as one of the greatest players of his generation and while the golf course may beckon, his influence is sure to be sought by those looking to maximise their talent and win silverware on a basis even half as regularly as he did.

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