Gareth Bale: Britain’s’ Greatest Footballer?

Wide angle shot of the inside of the Real Madrid stadium the Santiago Bernabeu
Henry Durand

Dreary January mornings are rarely the time for sentiment, yet the announcement of Gareth Bale’s retirement this week got Henry Durand thinking: is he the greatest British player of all time?  

Let’s lay out the case for Gareth, because he undeniably has one. On paper, it looks good for him: five Champions Leagues! (Yes, five!). Alongside the top club prize, there are four Club World Cups, three European Super Cups, a hat-trick of La Liga titles, a Copa del Rey and a trio of Spanish Super Cups. Most importantly of course, he also lifted the prestigious 2022 MLS Cup whilst on loan at LAFC which may have topped the lot!  

Individually, he’s also amassed a Premier League player of the season (2012-2013), four PFA Team of the Year entries, and a brace of UEFA Team of the Year appearances – not bad. Nevertheless, for me, the case for Bale as Britain’s GOAT goes beyond what you can see in his Wikipedia honours section. When you think of the Welsh star, you don’t think of this stuff, you think of the moments, and Bale’s career was absolutely full of them. 

What’s the moment that first comes to your mind? Take your pick. Who could forget his breakout in 2010, where he stole headlines away from a victorious Inter Milan with a ridiculous second-half hat-trick against Brazilian legend Maicon? Three years later saw him embarrass a new player on the global stage as he burnt Marc Batra to score *that* Copa Del Rey goal. Maybe you’re a proud Welshman; take your pick of one of his many moments for the Dragons on the international stage.  

Undeniably, this should be in the conversation for the greatest goal of all time

Regardless, the moment that I’ll never forget will always be the bicycle kick in Kiev. Even as a neutral, rewatching that goal gives me goosebumps. Many hail it as the greatest Champions League final goal ever, but that understates it. Undeniably, this should be in the conversation for the greatest goal of all time. It simply has all the hallmarks of what makes goals great. Big stage, gave his team the lead, not long left, great celebration, and lets not ignore the purest of bicycle motions: C’mon, what’s left to say? 

It is these moments rather than the statistics which give legs to the Bale argument. When you look at his rivals for the title they simply do not compare. I’ll give you an example: can you even name me 1 iconic Kenny Dalglish goal? I didn’t think so. It was the big game moments Bale could pull out of nowhere which will ensure his legacy lasts the distance. The goal in Kyiv already has nearly two million views on BT Sports YouTube channel, and I’m sure I’ll account for at least another few hundred in the coming years.  

There are certain hurdles which limit Bale’s bid for the UK Football Crown. For example, whilst his peak is almost unmatched in terms of his British counterparts, his longevity is not. His peak as a genuine world beater lasted for around six or seven years. Is this enough when you compare it to the 12-year period Wayne Rooney spent ripping apart Premier League defences?

Alternatively, he is one of the most booed figures the Bernabeu has seen due to his apathetic ‘Wales Golf Madrid’ antics 

When you look at the Rooney’s, Gerrard’s, Dalglish’s, Giggs’, they all have their respective homes through the clubs they spent almost their entire careers with. Where would you put Gareth Bale’s statue? The majority of his Tottenham career was inconsistent, culminating with a disappointing loan in 2020. Alternatively, he is one of the most booed figures the Bernabeu has seen due to his apathetic ‘Wales Golf Madrid’ antics. Whilst the answer to this statue debate likely resides with an iron cast of him outside the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, it poses the question of whether his club career could have been even better had he remained with one club? 

Bale will always be a conflicting player, but his moments and consequential legacy ensure he undeniably belongs in the conversation as to who is the greatest Brit to ever play the game.  

Henry Durand

Featured image courtesy of Vienna Reyes via Unsplash. Image use license found hereNo changes were made to this image.

In article image 1 courtesy of @garethbale11 via No changes were made to this image.

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