Gareth Bale announced his retirement from soccer on Monday at the age of 33, ending the career of one of Britain’s greatest players after winning five Champions League titles and finally getting to play in a World Cup for Wales.
Bale was once the world’s most expensive player when he joined Real Madrid for $132 million in 2013 and, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, was a devastating forward capable of surging runs and brilliant goals with his powerful left foot.
He was a European champion with Madrid in 2014, ’16, ’17, ’18 and last year, before finishing his club career by helping Los Angeles FC win the Major League Soccer title.
Affected by injuries in recent years, he ended his career saving the best performances for his country, for whom he played a record 111 matches and scored a record 41 times.
Key to qualifying Wales for its first World Cup in 64 years, Bale scored in the group stage in Qatar — a penalty against the United States — and his last match was a 3-0 loss to England on Nov. 29.
Bale said his decision to retire from international soccer was “by far the hardest of my career.”
“My journey on the international stage is one that has changed not only my life but who I am,” Bale said in a statement. “The fortune of being Welsh and being selected to play for and captain Wales, has given me something incomparable to anything else I’ve experienced.
“I am honored and humbled to have been able to play a part in the history of this incredible country, to have felt the support and passion of the red wall, and together have been to unexpected and amazing places.”
Bale started out as a left back for Southampton, moved to Tottenham in 2007 for a six-year spell, and had another year at Spurs in the 2020-21 season on loan from Madrid.
He scored 53 Premier League goals and 81 in La Liga. He won three Spanish league titles, one Copa del Rey and one English League Cup title.
Only one player — former Real Madrid star Paco Gento — won more European Cup/Champions League titles than Bale.
“I move on with anticipation to the next step in my life,” Bale said. “An opportunity for a new adventure.”
Madrid called Bale a “legend of our club and world football.”
“Gareth Bale has been part of our team in one of the most successful stages in our history and forever represents many of the brightest moments of the last decade,” the Spanish club said. Madrid referred specifically to his go-ahead goals in the 2014 and ‘18 Champions League finals and his solo goal against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final in 2014 when he sprinted down the left wing, even outside the field through the coaches’ technical areas.
However, there is a slight sense that his career is unfulfilled given the way his time at Madrid petered out after scoring twice — including a flying volley — in the win over Liverpool in the Champions League final in 2018.
Injuries and a breakdown in his relationship with former Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane led to Bale becoming a peripheral figure in the Spanish capital. He appeared to lack the motivation to play for Madrid but was always ready to go to great lengths to play for his beloved Wales.
While celebrating a win that qualified his country for the 2020 European Championship, Bale held up a Welsh flag with the words “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In That Order” written on it.
He was at his best for Wales when helping the team reach the Euro 2016 semifinals unexpectedly, memorably beating fancied Belgium in the quarterfinals before losing to Portugal.
Bale, who made his Wales debut in May 2006 in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago, broke the previous Wales record of 28 goals set by Ian Rush. He has won Wales’ player of the year award six times.
“How do I describe what being a part of this country and team means to me? How do I articulate the impact it has had on my life? How do I put in to words the way I felt, every single time I put on that Welsh shirt?” Bale said. “My answer is that I couldn’t possibly do any of those things justice, simply with words.
“But I know that every person involved in Welsh football, feels the magic, and is impacted in such a powerful and unique way, so I know you feel what I feel, without using any words at all.”
Praising Bale’s impact, Wales said: “The term ‘legend’ is overused in the modern game, but there are few players as deserving of that accolade than Bale for the crucial part he has played in revolutionizing the image of the national team off the field and delivering success on it.”
He joined Los Angeles from Madrid in June, when his contract at Madrid expired, and helped his new team win the MLS championship, scoring a 128th-minute equalizer in the final. LA went on to beat Philadelphia on penalty kicks.