Eight top players fans wish had longer careers as Gareth Bale eyes retirement

Gareth Bale is reportedly preparing for his final year in club football ahead of his 32nd birthday – but he wouldn't be the first player to retire from the sport earlier than anticipated.

The Wales captain is due to return to Real Madrid later this month following his loan spell at Tottenham last season, with a year still to run on his current Los Blancos contract.

However, The Mirror are reporting that he is planning to bow out from club football once that deal expires, although he could still play for Wales at the 2022 World Cup in December of next year.

Should he hang up his boots as expected, Bale would join a long list of top players fans wish would have had longer careers, and we've picked out some of the best below…

Ryan Mason

After emerging from Tottenham's youth ranks to make 70 appearances for the club Mason departed in 2016 to join Hull, where his eight-year career came to an abrupt end.

During an encounter with Chelsea in January 2017, the midfielder suffered a sickening clash of heads with Blues defender Gary Cahill which fractured his skull.

He was rushed to hospital and quickly underwent successful surgery on the injury, but due to the risks associated with such a serious problem Mason was left with no choice but to retire at the age of 26.

Do you think Gareth Bale should retire from football next year? Let us know in the comments section below.

Eric Cantona

The controversial Frenchman proved one of the most enigmatic characters in Premier League history during his time at Manchester United, and his retirement at the age of 30 only added to the mystery.

After joining from Leeds in 1992 Cantona scored 82 goals in 185 games for United, inspiring four Premier League title and two FA Cup triumphs.

However, having got his hands on the fourth and final title in 1997 he chose to walk away from the game, which he later put down to his lack of "passion" for it.

Marco Van Basten

Another iconic player whose career was cut far too short, Van Basten won league titles with Ajax and AC Milan as well as two European Cups with the latter and the 1988 European Championship with his native Holland.

Yet the striker, who also got his hands on three Ballon d'Or awards, was forced to call time on his career at the tender footballing age of 30 due to a series of ankle problems.

His final outing came in the 1993 Champions League final, when he was taken off after a tough challenge from Basile Boli condemned him to what proved career-ending ankle surgery.

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Dean Ashton

While he may not have been on the level of other players included in this list, the one-cap England star had shown plenty of promise in his early days at Crewe Alexandra, scoring 74 goals in 177 games, and was performing well after securing a move to West Ham in January 2006.

He fought back from a broken ankle which kept him out of action for the entirety of the 2006/07 campaign and scored 11 goals in 35 appearances the following season, but a sprained ankle towards the end of 2008 effectively ended his career.

Ashton failed to make another appearance for the Hammers and retired in December 2009 at the age of 26, having failed to recover from the long-term ankle injury.

Zinedine Zidane

Heading into the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and nearing his 34th birthday, Zidane announced that he would be retiring from professional football altogether following the tournament's conclusion.

The Real Madrid midfielder played a key part in France's run to the final, where he infamously brought the curtain down on his legendary career by headbutting Marco Materazzi in Les Bleus' defeat to Italy.

His career wasn't exactly cut short, but Zizou's stunning performances at the World Cup, coupled with the controversial manner in which he ended it, left football fans devastated when he followed through with his promise and retired.

Jamie Vardy (International)

The Leicester hero earned 26 caps in his short-lived England career before controversially retiring from international duty in 2018.

He only featured at one tournament with the Three Lions, failing to prevent them from crashing out of Euro 2016 in a dreadful last-16 defeat against Iceland, before telling Gareth Southgate that he didn't want to be considered for selection at the 2018 World Cup.

Given he has since scored another 58 goals in 118 games for Leicester since making that decision, Vardy's decision to bow out from England duty at the age of 31 feels like a waste.

David Bentley

Bentley proved a true fan favourite in his Premier League career, enjoying success in his time at Norwich, Blackburn and Tottenham after leaving boyhood club Arsenal.

However, following unsuccessful loan stints with Birmingham, West Ham, Russian outfit FC Rostov and former club Blackburn, the midfielder surprisingly announced his retirement from football at the age of 29 in 2014.

He cited falling out of love with the game as his reason for doing so, describing modern football as "robotic" on his way out.

Patrick Kluivert

During the mid-90s, Kluivert was one of the most fearsome strikers in world football after bursting onto the scene at Ajax.

He scored the winning goal for the Dutch club in the 1995 Champions League final, before enjoying success at AC Milan and becoming a hero at Barcelona.

Nevertheless, his stellar career then came to a flat and premature close following below-par spells with Newcastle, Valencia, PSV and Lille.

The Netherlands star therefore called it a day at the age of 32, coming as a major disappointment to fans across Europe.

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