Goodbye to the Welsh Cannon
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After a glittering career lasting over a decade, Welsh soccer icon Gareth Bale has hung up his boots and is retiring at 33 years old. Regarded as one of the greatest footballers in Welsh history, Bale made a name for himself with his lightning speed, silky dribbling, and spectacular goals.
In his announcement, Bale reflected on his journey and expressed gratitude to all those who helped shape his career. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have realized my dream of playing the sport I love. It has truly given me some of the best moments of my life,” Bale said. He went on to acknowledge the impact of his former clubs, managers, coaches, and backroom staff, as well as his dedicated fans, friends, and family.
Bale began his professional journey at Southampton and became the second youngest player to play for the senior team before moving to Tottenham Hotspur in 2007, where he rapidly rose to prominence as one of the top wingers in the Premier League. At Tottenham, he evolved from his role as a left-back to a left-winger, adding attacking quality to a rising Spurs side. His quality won him respect from the Spurs faithful, but it took only one picturesque goal to make him an international icon.
Tottenham traveled to the San Siro on October 20, 2010 to play Inter Milan in the Union of European Football Associations Champions League group stage. It could not have started worse for the North London side, who found themselves down 3-0 within 14 minutes and playing with 10 men, as their goalkeeper was sent off due to an early and violent challenge. Tottenham were down 4-0 at halftime; it appeared as if there was nothing left for Tottenham to salvage. However, Bale scored early in the second half, flying past the Milan defenders on the wing. Though it was a beautiful goal, it seemed to be a mere consolation. But in the final few minutes, Bale scored another goal, a near-perfect replica of what he scored earlier in the half. Then another one, making the score 4-3and mirroring the speed at which they went down. To the displeasure of Tottenham fans, however, the comeback was cut short by the final whistle, but the talk around Bale surged. His ability to score from long range and freekicks earned him the nickname “The Welsh Cannon.” Securing his spot in the starting 11, he won the Premier League Player of the Year award in the 2012-13 season, cementing his status as one of the best in the world, among the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. In 2013, Bale made headlines when he joined Spanish giants Real Madrid for a world-record transfer fee at the time of €101 million.
At Real Madrid, Bale made an instant impact, helping the team win the Copa Del Rey and La Decima—Real Madrid’s 10th Champions League title—in his first year at the club. Not only did he help them win those competitions, but he also scored a goal in both finals. In the Copa Del Rey final, Real Madrid was plagued with injuries, most notably with star forward Cristiano Ronaldo, leaving Bale to carry most of the burden in the attack. The expectations for Real Madrid’s “El Clásico” against Barcelona were low with the absence of their main man, but Bale took the opportunity to prove his worth in this monumental match. With under six minutes left of play in regulation, Bale ran the length of the pitch at a top speed of 21.54 miles per hour and scored the winning goal, earning his first trophy for Los Blancos. During his eventful stint in Madrid, he won five Champions Leagues and three La Liga titles. He became a Madrid legend when he scored a spectacular bicycle kick in the 2018 Champions League final, the most iconic goal ever scored in a Champions League final and the first by a Welshman. Bale was a defining figure of the Real Madrid front three, consisting of himself, Karim Benzema, and Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the most dangerous attacking trios in the history of the game.
Despite his success in Spain, Bale’s relationship with Real Madrid crumbled as repeated injuries, paired with his deteriorating relationship with manager Zinedine Zidane, saw him spend more time on the bench than on the pitch. When he did play, he averaged a goal or assist every 109 minutes, which was stellar to every standard except Madrid’s. Bale’s lack of playtime led him to decrease prioritization on club competition. The Spanish media did not take kindly to this, and the once-revered Bale faced disrespect from Madrid’s fans. Bale only fueled the fire by posing with a flag that read “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order,” symbolizing the growing divide between the two parties.
He returned to Tottenham on loan for the 2020-21 season, where he helped the team reach the Round of 16 in the Europa League. In the twilight of his career, he made a move to Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) in the MLS, marking the end of his European career. After all, he had won all there was to win in Spain. In his time at LAFC, he helped the team win the MLS Cup, scoring the equalizing goal in the final and winning on penalties. At the international level, he led the Wales international team to the semi-final at the Euros in 2016 and, in 2022, their first World Cup appearance since 1958.
Though his career was tainted by fallouts with the Spanish media and managers, Bale will be remembered as one of the greatest Welsh soccer players of all time, with a career full of incredible achievements, spectacular goals, and memorable moments. In an era featuring some of the greatest players in football history, Bale is often not given enough respect in spite of his incredible career. Regardless, millions of fans across the globe will never forget the joy and inspiration he brought to the sport of football.