|Gareth Bale |
Ok, so if you arrive in Madrid with an £85 million price tag you've clearly got some sort of talent. But when you're just a young lad from Wales who grew up under the influence of father Frank, a school caretaker, and mother Debbie, an operations manager, you must be pretty special. For Gareth Bale, the boy from Whitchurch, transferring over to Real Madrid for a world-record fee can only be described as a dream come true as a new chapter opens in the career that's only just beginning.
Growing up, Bale was just like any ordinary kid who loved football and idolised the Welsh wizard Ryan Giggs. He attended Whitchurch High School and, unbelievably, was in the same class as Welsh rugby captain Sam Warburton and national cycling hero Geraint Thomas. Bale caught the eye of Southampton, aged just nine, while playing a six-a-side tournament for his first club Cardiff Civil Service. However, it wasn't just football that the Welshman excelled in; hockey, rugby and even sprinting also featured in Bale's repertoire and it's even been rumoured that he was able to run 100m in 11.4 seconds aged only 14. Despite this, it was football that Bale pursued and school PE teacher Mr Morris had to prevent Bale from using his left foot and limit him to one-touch passing in order to make it fairer on the other boys. While at school, Bale showed the much-needed commitment by travelling several times each week to Southampton's satellite academy in Bath and as a result his game was improving day-by-day. Aged sixteen, he was in the Whitchurch under-eighteen side that won the Cardiff and Vale Senior Cup and was awarded a PE prize for his services to sport. During the presentation, teacher Mr Morris said how Bale had "a fierce determination to succeed" and "the character and qualities to achieve his personal goals" - something he would go on to do.
The youngster left school in 2005 and less than a year later became the second youngest player to represent Southampton (behind a certain man named Theo Walcott). In April 2006, at the age of sixteen years and two-hundred-and-seventy-five days he made his debut in a 2-0 victory over Millwall and it looked as if the move away from home at such a young age was worth it. He became the youngest player ever to play for Wales as he appeared as a substitute in a 2-1 win over Trinidad and Tobago on May 26th 2006. He assisted the winning goal scored by Robert Earnshaw and Bryan Flynn was quick to compare his technical ability to that of Bale's childhood hero Ryan Giggs. Later that year he scored his first league goal, in the form of a free kick, to level the score in a 1-1 draw at Derby County. Bale netted with another free kick in Southampton's second game of the 2006-2007 season and started to build-up a reputation from set-pieces continuing to score more from a dead-ball against the likes of Hull and Norwich. In October, Bale was called up to the Welsh squad again and became the youngest player ever to score a goal for his national team by netting another free kick against Slovakia. Life was pretty good for the Welsh youngster and his Premier League goal tally was up to five by Christmas. Bale started to gather up some high-profile awards, such as the BBC Wales Young Sports Personality of the Year. A few months later, in March 2007, the then-defender was named the Football League Young Player of the Year and connections were starting to be made with top-flight clubs. A second goal in a Welsh jersey was put to his name as he scored in a 3-0 win over San Marino on March 28th. He later stated that it was "an honour to play for Wales". After suffering an injury during the first leg of Southampton's Championship play-off semi-final, Bale's season and time at Southampton was over. He didn't feature again for the club and moved to Tottenham Hotspur that summer.
A four-year deal was on the cards and Bale cost the London club a mere £7 million, something that now seems like one of the biggest bargains of football history. Big things were expected from the lad who had sacrificed so much for his dream and he was now about to embark on what would be an up-and-down journey at Tottenham Hotspur. The 2007-2008 season was just around the corner and it would turn out to be a rocky road for the Welshman. The season started well and Bale made his competitive debut at the Theatre of Dreams in Tottenham's second game of the season. He went on to score his first goal in a 3-3 draw with Fulham in early September as he charged down the left-flank and coolly finished past Niemi. Since Bale's name was now synonymous with the phrase "free kick", it only seemed natural that this how he scored in his first North-London derby against Arsenal. The ball sailed in past the near post and as far as Spurs fans were concerned, this was already enough to give him a legendary status. He continued his fine start to the season with a goal in the League Cup tie against Middlesbrough; Bale had now scored three goals in four starts for Tottenham. However, things were about to go downhill. The rising star was substituted on the 2nd of December following a tackle from Fabrice Muamba. It was discovered that Bale had suffered ligament damage to his right ankle and surgery was necessary. By February 2008, it became clear that he would miss the rest of the season and the Tottenham Sporting Director Damien Comolli said that the decision had been made to "bring him back slowly to ensure he does not get a repeat of the injury or suffer any further damage".
After such a promising start to his Spurs career, Gareth Bale started the 2008-2009 campaign with a few uninspiring performances, despite signing a new four-year contract at the start of the season. He was soon dropped and remained the second-choice left-back behind Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The following season continued on as the previous one had ended - in a rather dull manner for Bale. The Welshman missed pre-season and the first-few weeks of the league campaign after he underwent further surgery for his knee. He returned on the September 26th as a substitute and came on in the 85th minute; Tottenham recorded a 5-0 win over Burnley and it was the first time that Bale had been on the winning side as a Spurs player, despite 24 previous attempts. However, since Assou-Ekotto was in good form, it became difficult for Bale to get in the starting eleven. Nevertheless, Bale still recieved another call up to the Welsh National Side and he started the World Cup qualifier against Finland. Four days later he set up David Vaughan who scored the opening goal against Liechtenstein and won a free kick which was scored by Aaron Ramsey for the second. The Premier League season continued and Bale knew that he had to take his chance when it came. After an impressive performance in the FA Cup third-round against Peterborough, and aided by a slight injury to Cameroon-international Assou-Ekotto, Bale was given the go-ahead as Spurs met local rivals Fulham in the January of 2010. Redknapp's men earned a 2-0 victory and the left-back's game started to improve. In April, he scored the winning goal in the North-London derby, much to the delight of all associated with Tottenham Hotspur, and three days later produced a man-of-the-match performance against eventual champions Chelsea after scoring the winner with his weaker right foot. Clearly all that practice with Bale's right foot, thanks to Mr Morris back at school, was paying off! The Welshman was named Barclays Player of the Month for April 2010 and signed yet another four-year contract in May after helping Tottenham secure Champions League football for the first time in their history.
The 2010-2011 season is surely one that Bale will remember for a long time to come. He started the season in phenomenal form scoring twice in a 2-1 win at Stoke City in August (with the second of these goals later awarded Goal of the Month by the BBC). Less than a week later, Tottenham beat Young Boys 4-0 to take them into the Champions League group stages and it was Bale that set up all four goals. The lad from Whitchurch soon moved into the left-wing position in order to accommodate Benoit Assou-Ekotto at left-back who had returned from injury. In September, Bale netted his first Champions League goal against FC Twente and was consequently named Welsh Player of the Year. His next Champions League goal, or should I say goals, are sure to live in the memories of several thousand Spurs fans. It was the 20th of October and the San Siro was the location. Tottenham were to take on the European giants Inter Milan and it was the manner in which this game played out that made it so special. After going 4-0 down in thirty-five minutes, and playing with ten men for over eighty minutes after Spurs' goalkeeper Gomez had been shown red early on, a Gareth Bale hat trick saw the game end 4-3. All his goals came from a surge down the left-wing followed by a fierce shot that flew past the Inter keeper. In the return leg, another man-of-the-match performance from Gareth Bale saw the London side win 3-1; the Welshman set up goals for Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko. With these two performances buzzing in the minds of several top European clubs, Bale showed his loyalty to Spurs by extending his stay at the club until 2015. In the April of 2011, he was honoured with the PFA Player of the Year award which was voted for by his peers.
The 2011-2012 season lived up to expectations and Gareth Bale started strongly once again. He netted against the likes of Wigan, managed two against Queens Park Rangers, and heavily influenced those scored against Fulham. The 3rd of December 2011 saw Tottenham take on Bolton Wanderers and it turned out to be a rather emotional day. Bale scored and followed by holding up his left boot which read "R.I.P Gary Speed". The message for the former Bolton and Wales midfielder was received well and the legacy of Gary Speed lived on. Bale continued his fine form with goals against Norwich and Wigan which soon took his tally for the season into double figures. Success didn't stop there for the Welshman as he was named in the UEFA Team of the Year for 2011 and earned the Premier League Player of the Month for January 2012 after three goals and two assists in this period. At the end of the season, a new four-year contract was agreed and Bale looked set to stay at the club until 2016.
Bale embarked on his sixth season as a Tottenham Hotspur player and, as he was now more of a left-winger, he changed his squad number to eleven. He scored against Reading and then at Old Trafford, helping Spurs gain their first win at Old Trafford since 1989. International call ups were now becoming rather common and in the October of 2012, Bale scored two goals in a 2-1 victory over Scotland in a World Cup qualifier. His first Premier League hat trick came on Boxing Day against Aston Villa and he started the New Year well with goals against Coventry, in the FA Cup, Norwich and Newcastle to bring him to fifteen goals for the season. It left the London club in third position and strengthened their ambitions for Champions League football once again. A Bale brace in the first leg of Tottenham's Europa League round-of-thirty-two helped them see off Lyon after two incredible trademark free kicks found the back of the net. He continued his electric form against West Ham by scoring twice again. A long-range dipping shot from over thirty yards was the highlight of a world-class performance from Bale and he was simply in the form of his life. His eight goals in six games proved this. As March came around, the Welshman scored against Arsenal in yet another North-London derby which Tottenham won 2-1. Less than a week later, it was a rematch of the Champions League tie in 2010 as Spurs faced Inter Milan. The former won 3-0 with Bale bagging the first. More awards started coming the winger's way as he won the BBC Goal of the Month in both January and February for strikes against Norwich and West Ham respectively. Furthermore, he was also awarded the Premier League Player of the Month for February. Despite picking up an injury against FC Basel in the first leg of the Europa League quarter final, he returned quickly and gained a goal and an assist against Manchester City, much to the thrill of the packed out crowd at White Hart Lane. Towards the end of April, Bale picked up the PFA Player of the Year award for the second time, but also added the PFA Young Player of the Year award too. He then went on to collect the Footballer Writer's Association Player of the Year award, making him only the second player to have won all three of these prestigious awards in the same year, the other being Cristiano Ronaldo. Bale finished the season strongly scoring against his former club Southampton and then, from twenty-five yards, out against Sunderland. Unfortunately this was not quite enough to grant Tottenham Champions League football but, as for Bale, his superb form had caught the eye of one of Europe's greatest clubs and this level of football looked to be on the cards.
After a long summer of speculation, Bale eventually made a boyhood dream a reality as, on the 1st of September, Real Madrid confirmed that an agreement had been reached for Wales' new wizard. A six-year deal had been agreed, which was thought to be in the region of £85 million. It surpassed that of Cristiano Ronaldo and the kid from Whitchurch became the world's most expensive footballer. It seems crazy to think that someone of this caliber may not ever get the chance to play in a World Cup, but for now Gareth Bale can focus on a new start and life in Madrid. All that travelling and hard work as a child, as well as the persistence through injury concerns, has paid off and it proves that with the right attitude anything is possible. Bale is now on top of the world and has become a player that young children look up to. What is so admired, is the sheer determination, the fact he's a dream-chaser and someone that refuses to give in. Let's hope this sensational form continues in Madrid and we can look forward to many more years of Bale's magic.