Gareth Bale announces retirement from football: ‘I have realised my dream’

  • Wales international calls time on career at age of 33
  • ‘Football has truly given me some of my best moments’

Gareth Bale, Wales men’s all-time leading goalscorer and a five-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid, has announced his retirement from football. Bale, one of Britain’s most decorated players, has stepped away from the game midway through his contract at Los Angeles FC, which was due to expire this summer.

Bale’s decision comes little more than a month after he vowed to continue playing after Wales’s disappointing group-stage exit at their first World Cup finals tournament for 64 years. Bale captained Wales on his first appearance at a World Cup finals.

“My decision to retire from international football has been by far the hardest of my career,” Bale said. “My journey on the international stage is one that has changed not only my life but who I am.”

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Bale started at Southampton, making his debut aged 16, and spent six years at Tottenham before joining Madrid in 2013 for a then world-record £85m fee. He had indicated as recently as November that he would play on until at least the end of Wales’s Euro 2024 qualifying campaign. Bale scored 41 goals in 111 international appearances.

In a separate statement on social media Bale said: “After careful and thoughtful consideration I announce my immediate retirement from club and international football.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to have achieved my dream of playing the sport I love. It has truly given me some of the best moments of my life. The highest of highs over 17 seasons that will be impossible to replicate, no matter what the next chapter has in store for me.”

It means Bale’s final game was the 3-0 defeat by England in November in Qatar, in which he was substituted at half-time. Afterwards Rob Page, the Wales manager, was confident Bale would stay true to his word. “I don’t think it will be the last time you see Gareth in a Wales jersey,” Page said.

Gareth Bale scores for Real Madrid with an overhead kick against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final.
Gareth Bale scores for Real Madrid with an overhead kick against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Arguably Bale’s greatest moment came on the biggest stage in club football, with his stunning overhead-kick goal against Liverpool in the Champions League final in 2018, the first of his two goals in Kyiv, influential in recording victory. His match-winning goal against Barcelona in the 2014 Copa del Rey final brought similar acclaim. Bale picked up the ball on halfway before sprinting off the pitch and past Marc Bartra, who had equalised, before returning to the field and slotting home the winner.

His sensational double for Wales against Austria in their World Cup playoff semi-final in Cardiff last March also was pivotal on his country’s path to the World Cup finals. “I am stepping back, but not away from the team that lives in me and runs through my veins,” Bale said. “After all, the dragon on my shirt is all I need.”

“Diolch @GarethBale11 for everything you have given to Welsh football,” the Football Association of Wales chief executive, Noel Mooney, said. “Simply the best.”

In November 2021 Bale won his 100th Wales cap at home against Belarus, three years after eclipsing Ian Rush’s goalscoring record by scoring a hat-trick in China. His final goal for his country was a penalty against the USA in Qatar in November and his final goal at domestic level was, fittingly, an 128th-minute headed equaliser to help LAFC en route to their Major League Soccer Cup victory earlier that month.

Bale scored 81 goals in 176 games for Madrid but the latter part of his nine-year spell was disrupted by controversy and injury. Bale received stinging criticism in Spain for celebrating Wales’s qualification for Euro 2020 by cavorting with a flag that read: “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that Order”.

During the World Cup Bale, who owns two golf bars and is thought to play off scratch, was asked about his love for the game. “Mentally it’s always been somewhere for me to get away from the pressure of football and the intensity of life,” he said. “It’s a nice getaway from the hectic life of a professional footballer.”

Bale is honoured with a mural in Whitchurch, north Cardiff, where he grew up with his parents, Frank and Debbie, and sister, Vicky. “Without your dedication in those early days, without such a strong foundation, I wouldn’t be writing this statement right now,” Bale said. “A time of change and transition, an opportunity for a new adventure.”


Ben Fisher

The GuardianTramp

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