Five-time Champions League winner and Welsh’s greatest player of the modern era, Gareth Bale – who retired from football today – went from unlucky left-back to one of the most exciting players in the world .
He carried the burden of a world record, a nation expecting him to perform miracles and arguably the hardest-to-please club fans in the world.
And whether it’s scoring unforgettable goals, tearing apart one of the best right-backs in the world or making history as perhaps British football’s greatest foreign export, Bale has held on. his promises.
As part of Bale Day on BBC Sport in June 2020, we asked you to rank 10 of his iconic moments – here’s the result in reverse order.
Results taken at 23:00 BST on Saturday June 13, 2020.
10. End his Tottenham jinx
Tottenham Hotspur 5-0 Burnley, 26 September 2009
“Did Spurs win? No? Well, Bale must have played then.”
The banter lasted for weeks, then months, then years as Bale’s start to life at White Hart Lane proved extremely difficult. He was not on the winning side in his first 24 Premier League appearances.
That stat could have been so different – in his second appearance he put Spurs 3-1 at Fulham only for them to be denied victory in injury time – but it became a big thing.
From August 2007 to September 2009, Bale failed to win a Premier League game for Spurs until Harry Redknapp gave him five minutes as a substitute with his side 5-0 up against Burnley. Bale never looked back.
9. Debut for club and country at 16
On April 17, 2006, aged 16 years and 275 days, Bale made his debut for Southampton in a 2-0 win over Millwall.
In May, aged 16 and 315 days, he made his debut for Wales in a friendly match against Trinidad and Tobago.
Brian Flynn, who was in charge of scouting young Welsh talent, described Bale as potentially a future star of the game, comparing his technical ability to that of Ryan Giggs.
Southampton’s financial problems meant he was not long for St Mary’s and, after turning down Manchester United, he joined Tottenham for £5million in May 2007.
8. Wales. Golf. Madrid
“I think Gareth Bale is a very particular type of person…he seems a bit strange. The first thing he thinks of is Wales, then golf and after that Real Madrid.” – ex-Real player Predrag Mijatovic
Bale has never had a close relationship with Real fans and has been criticized for being fit for Wales’ pivotal Euro 2020 qualifier with Hungary after missing seven weeks of club football.
Wales fans have transformed the ‘Wales’ mantra. Golf. Madrid’ in a chant and, following qualification achieved with a win over Hungary, Bale was front and center as the team carried a banner echoing that sentiment.
7. Sweep individual awards
At the end of that season, Bale was voted the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Player of the Year.
Two years later he won it again – and the PFA Young Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year awards. Only Cristiano Ronaldo had achieved this hat-trick before him.
Bale scored 31 goals for club and country, including a stunning late winner in the season finale – a 1-0 win over Sunderland at White Hart Lane. It was a good way to leave English football.
6. Becomes the most expensive player in the world
Bale’s brilliance – and Spurs’ failure to qualify for the Champions League – has sparked transfer interest from some of the world’s biggest clubs. The biggest offer came from Manchester United, but Bale only dreamed of a move to Real Madrid.
This became reality in September 2013, when he moved to the Bernabeu to a then world record amount of £85 million.
5. Become a repeat Champions League winner and final goalscorer
If you are going to have a love affair with a football competition, the Champions League seems like a very good choice.
Bale won the competition in his first season at Madrid, scoring in extra time as Real went from 1-0 up to stun city rivals Atletico 4-1.
Two years later, he scored in the penalty shootout as Madrid beat Atletico on penalties in 2016, before playing his part from the bench as they won the Champions League in his hometown of Cardiff in 2017 against Juventus.
4. Light up Euro 2016
For a long time it looked like Bale was destined to sit alongside George Best and Ryan Giggs as a British footballing icon who would never feature in an international tournament.
But his skill in qualifying for Euro 2016 ended the team’s 58-year wait to play there.
And he took on his electric form in the final, scoring three goals – including one against England in the group stage – as non-fanciful Wales became one of the stories of the tournament.
3. Score the wonderful Copa del Rey goal
What’s the best way to announce yourself to your new fans? How about scoring a sensational solo goal to win a cup final against your biggest rivals?
Bale did just that.
His superb individual goal won the Copa del Rey for Real with a 2-1 win over Barcelona.
The Wales striker edged past Barca defender Marc Bartra from the halfway line before converting coldly past Jose Manuel Pinto. Even Lionel Messi and Ronaldo couldn’t deny him headlines.
2. “Taxi to Maicon”
Once Bale and Spurs started to find success under Redknapp, the two kept going.
Bale’s defining moment – a few eye-popping free-kicks aside – came in the Champions League, with non-fanciful Spurs drawn against holders Inter Milan in the group stage in 2010.
Goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was sent off after eight minutes at the San Siro, and Tottenham found themselves trailing 4-0.
Enter Bale, with a stunning second-half hat-trick as he tore Maicon – arguably the best right-back in the world at the time – apart.
And he was arguably even better on the return, producing two assists in a dazzling display.
1. Scores the greatest goal in Champions League history (maybe)
Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool, May 26, 2018
While Bale has already won the Champions League three times, 2018 is the final he will be best remembered for.
Three minutes after coming on 1-1 against Liverpool, Bale scored one of the greatest goals in European football.
His magnificent overhead kick put Real 2-1 up and a 30-yard strike – with more than a helping hand from Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius – to secure the club’s 13th Champions League success.