Gareth Bale was labelled the best player in the world when he joined Real Madrid in 2013… but club politics and a constant spotlight on his life has seen the Wales hero fall out of love with the game and retirement at 32 may follow
- Gareth Bale is considering retirement from club football at the age of just 32
- The Real Madrid star has just one year left on his contract at the Bernabeu
- His unhappiness in Spain was clear as he returned to Spurs on loan last season
- His relationship within Real is strained, and his interests lay off the pitch
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
Gareth Bale does not enjoy questions on his future. He made that much clear to the reporter who asked him about whether he had played his last game for Wales after they crashed out of Euro 2020 at the hands of Denmark.
Emotions were high after the 4-0 defeat in Amsterdam and the forward’s reaction – storming off camera – was as much in disappointment of events on the field as to anger at the question.
It is a question, however, that Bale will need to answer, sooner rather than later. His dedication to his country is undeniable, demonstrated once again by galvanizing his side to rise out of Group A in second spot.
Reports have suggested that Gareth Bale (C) is contemplating retirement from club football
Bale still enjoys representing his country, as was clear during Wales’ Euro 2020 campaign
But it is his desire to continue on the club scene, his drive for the day-to-day humdrum of the game that has been questioned by others, and that he must now be questioning himself.
At the age 31, reports suggest that he is preparing for his final season as a player. The Mirror reported last week that he plans to make this coming season at Real Madrid his last in the professional game, while hoping to spearhead one last international hurrah by firing Wales to World Cup in Qatar next winter.
It would mean Bale hanging up his boots at the age of just 32. That would have been unthinkable for a player that was once thought of as a natural heir to the evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu.
However, despite a move back to Spurs, he has been unable to reignite his love for the game
There is no doubting that Bale has the ability to match the longevity of the Portuguese star. In his time at Tottenham on loan last season, there was enough in his performances to suggest he is still more than capable of mixing it with the best.
But it is that most important of ingredients that has been lacking, and for some time now. Hunger.
Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid have long suspected his appetite for the top tier of the game has waned. Jose Mourinho, too, suggested it on more than one occasion at Spurs.
This was not the case when the player left Tottenham first time around, leaving White Hart Lane and idol status behind to pursue his dream of pulling on the white jersey of Real Madrid.
Bale rose to prominence during his stint at White Hart Lane, becoming a world renowned star
Then, the hunger was certainly evident. Just as it had been during his incredible rise to prominence in north London.
Bale recovered from the brink of a loan move to the Championship and a season with Birmingham, to become one of the most feared left-sided players on the planet – his performance at the San Siro against Inter in the Champions League forcing the continent to sit up and take note.
What followed was beyond even the highest of expectations – four Champions League titles, two La Liga titles and iconic goals that endeared him to Madridistas the world over.
On joining Real Madrid in 2013, he stated that it had always been his dream to move to Spain
He enjoyed plenty of success in Spain, winning the Champions League on three occasions
His lung-bursting run in the Copa del Rey final against rivals Barcelona, his extra-time header against Atletico Madrid in the 2014 Champions League final, and his incredible overhead kick four years later against Liverpool have all served to etch his name into Madrid folklore.
But mixed in among the memorable moments was the sense that all was not rosy. After starring under Carlo Ancelotti, Bale was used more sparingly by Zinedine Zidane, the Welshman finding himself increasingly named among the substitutes.
Zidane would bristle at questions on the winger’s relegation from key man to squad member. To him it was plain that he had other players more committed to the cause. The strained relationship almost led to him leaving in 2019, only for Real to pull the plug last-minute on a move to China.
There was constant questioning in the Spanish press, with his love for golf a constant theme. It came to a head during the celebrations after Wales had qualified for Euro 2020.
However, Bale’s relationship with head coach Zinedine Zidane was always a bone of contention
A flag bearing the slogan ‘Wales, Golf, Madrid – in that order’ incensed those back in the Spanish capital.
The return of Zidane in 2019 and the strain in the Frenchman’s relationship with Bale has appeared a major facet in the Welshman’s disengagement with the game.
His attitude at the end of the 2019-20 season was one of a man out of focus. He was picked up in the Spanish press for his behaviour while on the bench – pretending to fall asleep during a clash against Alaves, before holding up a pair of imaginary binoculars at the next match having been branded ‘shameful’.
Bale was lambasted in the Spanish press for celebrating with the infamous Welsh flag in 2019
His move back to Spurs last season was a last-ditch attempt to rediscover the spark that saw him fall in love with the game.
However, in Jose Mourinho, Bale found only another prickly relationship – the player being called out in public over his training efforts.
‘It was totally wrong,’ was the Portuguese’s public outburst when asked about an Instagram post suggesting Bale was back to fitness in training.
He was hammered by pundits, too, Gary Neville and Graeme Souness among those to take a swipe at a smiling Bale for being too happy while sat on the bench.
Bale was also slammed for his antics in the stands, as his concentration appeared to wain
It was well noted within Spurs that the player’s jovial demeanour was a welcome presence throughout his year-long stay, but not for those former players.
As has been suggested by his agent Jonathan Barnett, the plan is for him to see out the final year of his contract at Real. The return of Carlo Ancelotti may even provide the spark for an Indian summer to his career.
Even then, that will unlikely be in the Spanish capital, as he plots his next move in football. Or retirement, as the case may well be.
There were glimpses of his former self back at Tottenham but his future remains uncertain
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