Gareth Bale, the phenomenon, pulls something out of nothing one last time

Few brought more visceral excitement than Bale in full flight. But greatness did not just stem from his technical or physical gifts, extreme as they were. He had the rare capacity to alter games by force of personality and individual intervention: it was first advertised on the major stage when 10-man Tottenham were 4-0 down to the European Cup holders Inter in San Siro only for Bale to enter unstoppable mode as he scored a hat-trick.

That explosiveness helped make Bale the world’s most expensive player when he joined Real for £85m. It was illustrated with the bicycle kick, two minutes after he came on against Liverpool, and as he became the only substitute to score twice in a Champions League final.

Bale celebrates scoring against the USA at the World Cup, his final goal for Wales

It highlighted the way a shy figure became a big-game player. Even shorn of his pace and mobility, he remained one. If Bale’s time in Los Angeles was the coda to a career, it was fitting his final club goal was an equaliser in the 128th minute of the MLS Cup final. If he was a rescuer of lost causes, Wales became his greatest project.

It was Bale who held his nerve to convert the late penalty in Qatar, getting Wales their first point in the World Cup since the 1950s and against a country, in the United States, with 100 times their population. It was Bale, too, who was credited with the goal against Ukraine to get them through their play-off final, Bale, in his last tour de force, who scored twice against Austria in the semi-final, just as in Euro 2016 it had been Bale who became the first Welshman to score in a major tournament since Terry Medwin in 1958. He ends with Wales records for caps (111) and goals (41) but if he was never really about the numbers, that is especially apparent in international football. His influence was both huge and admirable.

There was something endearing about the pleasure he took in playing for Wales; playing with “boys who became brothers”, as he referred to them in his retirement statement, he never seemed irritated by the shortcomings of lesser players. In his country, Bale found a cause greater than personal glory or Real Madrid. “The dragon on my shirt is all I need,” he said as he confirmed his playing days are over. He became a part-time club footballer, readying himself for the international breaks. It had seemed he would try and limp on until Euro 2024, looking to conjure more great moments. The spirit seemed willing, the body presumably was not, and if it was an anti-climax when he went off at half-time against England in Doha, the last game of his career was for Wales in a World Cup. And no one else can say that.

Source: Read Full Article