Bale retires, but don’t let injuries hide how special he was

Gareth Bale’s decision to retire from football aged 33 both came as a surprise, while at the same time surprising hardly anyone.

The news was surprising as Bale said after the World Cup that he would carry on representing Wales, while at the same time, his long battle against injuries (which to a great extent frustrated his World Cup campaign) meant that it was possibly his body, rather than his mind that made the final decision.

Real Madrid fans will have mixed memories of Bale, with their view colored by a concerted press campaign against him in his last seasons at the club as injuries limited his participation.

Bale wasn’t entirely innocent in this: the banner ‘Wales, Golf, Real Madrid’ certainly wasn’t an exercise in footballing diplomacy, but by then the relationship was probably soured anyhow.

A world record signing of 100 million euros in 2013, Bale scored 22 goals in his first season, 17 in the second, 19 in his third and nine in an injury-hit fourth campaign.

He netted 21 goals in the 2017-18 season, including one that will go down as one of the greatest goals ever scored in Champions League history, as he was named Man of the Match in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win over Liverpool.

Another goal for the album was his sprint from the halfway line, leaving Barcelona defender Marc Bartra trailing in his wake as he scored the winning goal five minutes from time in the 2014 Copa del Rey final.

Add to that, other moments of utter brilliance such as his hat-trick away to Inter Milan for Tottenham in 2010 and the ‘Taxi for Maicon’ chants as he gave the runaround to one of the best right-backs in the world.

Never forget the power in his left foot, his ability to win headers and how he developed from a fast-attacking teenage left back at Southampton into one of the best players in the world.

And yet despite his pace, talent and ability, Bale always seemed happiest when playing for Wales, surrounded by players from lower divisions. Here he wasn’t a global star, here Bale was a team-mate, who gave everything for his country and his companions.

Perhaps Real Madrid fans saw that commitment for Wales, but failed to see it for Madrid.

He retired with 41 goals from 111 international appearances, incredible at a time when many players looked for a way to avoid international commitments. That effort and dedication finally got its reward in Qatar when Wales returned to the World Cup for the first time in 64 years.

Bale’s career may have ended with a halftime substitution against England as his muscles said ‘no’, but neither that, nor his other injury problems should allow us to forget what ha special player he was. ■

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