On Monday afternoon, Gareth Bale announced his retirement from football at the age of 33.
Wales’ record goalscorer of all-time will be remembered for many things, golf springs to mind, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was one of the best footballers of his generation.
Bale won 16 major trophies during his time at Real Madrid, including five Champions Leagues, making him, by many metrics, the most successful British football player of all-time.
He certainly came along way from a young left-back at Tottenham, who couldn’t stay fit and was seemingly cursed at one point; the first 24 Premier League games he featured in, Spurs failed to win any of them!
In fact, Bale almost joined Birmingham City for £3 million in 2009, but Alex McLeish and Harry Redknapp couldn’t come to an agreement.
How things could’ve turned out differently.
Internazionale vs Tottenham Hotspur: Champions League 2010
Very few players announce themselves to the world in a defeat, but that’s something Gareth Bale did in October 2010.
Back then, Tottenham are making their Champions League debut, but find themselves 4-0 down at half time against Inter at San Siro.
Spurs then pull off one of the greatest almost-comebacks of all-time, with Bale scoring a sensational hat-trick in the second half, to no avail on the night.
More pertinently, Bale ran riot against Maicon, one of the best right-backs in the world, and, 13 days later, Bale is instrumental as Tottenham beat Inter 3-1 at White Hart Lane, giving the Brazilian more nightmare.
Before this, Bale was a pretty unknown 21 year old, but after that night, everybody knew his name.
West Ham United vs Tottenham Hotspur: Premier League 2013
By 2012/13, Bale was the best player in the Premier League, named PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year.
That season, Bale scored 26 goals, the most famous of which came at the Boleyn Ground on 25 February.
With the score at 2-2, Tom Carroll plays a three yard assist, that’s gone down in Spurs folk-law, before Bale lashes the ball into the top corner, past a helpless Jussi Jääskeläinen.
Bale scored 72 goals from Tottenham, across two spells, with this probably the one that first springs to mind for many.
Real Madrid vs Barcelona: Copa del Rey Final 2014
In the summer of 2013, Bale joined Real Madrid for €100 million, then a world-record transfer fee.
His first season was generally impressive, but it took until April’s Copa del Rey Final for him to truly win over Madrid supporters.
El Clásico Copa finals happen a lot less regularly than you might think; there have been just six since the Spanish Civil War.
The most-recent of these took place at Mestalla in 2014, with Gareth Bale scoring this astonishing winner late on.
Marc Bartra looks set to pick up a lose ball, only for Bale to outpace the Barça centre-back, run round him and off the pitch, before bursting through and poking the ball beyond José Manuel Pinto.
This ten seconds of play encapsulated what made peak-Bale so great; pace, power, determination and composure in the big moments.
Real Madrid vs Atlético Madrid: Champions League Final 2014
38 days later, Estádio da Luz is playing host to an all-Madrid Champions League final, with Real chasing their holy grail: La Décima.
This game is most famous for Sergio Ramos’ last-gasp header, known as minuto 94, but it was Bale who got the crucial go-ahead goal in extra time.
Ángel Di María dribbles down the left, he effort is parried up in the air by Thibaut Courtois, with Bale on hand to nod home the winner.
In the end, los Blancos prevailed 4-1, Atleti mentally collapsed, but without this goal who knows what would’ve happened?
Wales vs Belgium: European Championship qualifier 2015
You can’t believe it’s taken this long for a Wales goal to be mentioned can you?
The Dragons’ ended their 58-year wait for major tournament qualification at Euro 2016, with Bale scoring seven goals in ten qualifiers.
His braces in Andorra la Vella and Haifa were both crucial, but it was this spin and finish against Belgium that will live longest in the memory.
That night, in June 2015, Chris Coleman’s side beat the top-seeds in their group, and at that point Wales fans truly believed qualification was actually going to happen.
From then on, Bale scoring crucial goals at the Cardiff City Stadium would become something of a theme.
Wales vs Slovakia: European Championships 2016
At the tournament itself, it had to be Bale who scored Wales’ first-ever European Championship goal didn’t it?
This trademark free-kick broke the deadlock against Slovakia at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, a game Wales would win 2-1 right at the death.
Against all odds, the Dragons reached the semi-finals in France, with Bale scoring in all three group games.
But this one, as Wales’ first at a Euros, will always hold it’s place in history.
Real Madrid vs Liverpool: Champions League Final 2018
In 2018, Bale became the first player in history to score the winning goal in multiple European Cup Finals.
Now more of a bit-part player at Real Madrid, the Welshman came off the bench in the 61st minute and then pulled off this astonishing bicycle kick mere seconds later.
Marcelo’s cross deflects up in the air, but Bale, somehow, manages to pull-off this amazing piece of skill, using all of his agility and flexibility.
His then manager Zinedine Zidane was widely regarded as the scorer of the best goal in Champions League Final history, but this strike by Bale surely eclipses Zizou’s volley at Hampden, right?
Wales vs Austria: World Cup play-off semi-final 2022
Bale ends his career having scored 41 international goals, overtaking Ian Rush’s record at the modest setting that was the China Cup, bagging a hat-trick against the hosts in 2018.
Fast forward to 2022, what turned out to be the final year of his career, he’s hardly playing at club level, but is still capable of moments of magic.
This wasn’t more true than in March’s World Cup play-off semi-final against Austria.
Bale scored both as Wales snuck through 2-1, the first a postage-stamp free-kick, before lashing home a second half clincher.
Three months later, his free-kick also led to the only goal in the final victory over Ukraine, although this has been officially credited as an Andriy Yarmolenko own goal.
Nevertheless, Bale, pretty much single-handedly, dragged Wales to their first World Cup finals since 1958, despite his lack of match-sharpness and all-round fitness.
LAFC vs Philadelphia Union: MLS Cup 2022
Ahead of the World Cup in Qatar, on 27 June last year, Bale joined Los Angeles FC, essentially to build-up fitness for the tournament.
He scored against Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake during the regular season, helping the Black and Gold claim the Supporters’ Shield.
However, Bale’s time in the City of Angels will be remembered for his contribution to the greatest MLS Cup Final of all-time, bar none.
In the dying minutes of extra time, LAFC are 3-2 down against Philadelphia Union and a man down, with goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau having been dismissed.
Bale has been substituted on seven minutes into extra time but, in truth, looks completing unfit and is basically a passenger.
That is, until, in the 128th minute, Bale heads home an equaliser, sparking wild celebrations at Banc of California Stadium, and forcing a penalty shootout.
LAFC prevail in the shootout, with Bale serenaded as a hero; what a way to score the 186th and final goal of your club career.
Wales vs United States: World Cup 2022
We didn’t know it at the time, but the last goal of Gareth Bale’s professional career came on 21 November 2022.
In their first World Cup for 64 years, Wales only managed to score a solitary goal, but it’s one the Red Wall will never forget.
A goal down with eight to play, the Dragons are awarded a penalty against United States, and there’s only one man for the job.
Bale lashes the ball past Matt Turner, sparking wild celebrations from all behind that goal at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.
In truth, Bale was well off the pace in Qatar, but what a way to sign off for one of the best British sports stars in history.