Cymru captain Gareth Bale has officially worn the dragon on his shirt for the final time having announced his retirement from professional football.
A true Cymru legend, Bale is not only the all-time leading appearance holder and all-time leading goalscorer for the national team, but is widely-regarded as the greatest-ever Cymru player for what he achieved for both club and country during his illustrious career.
A scorer of crucial goals, it was Bale that ended our 64-year wait to return to the world stage as he scored both goals in the 2-1 play-off semi-final victory over Austria before scoring the decisive goal against Ukraine in the final to book Cymru’s place at the World Cup in Qatar. He would also score Cymru’s only goal at the finals when he converted from the penalty spot against the United States.
Making his senior international debut against Trinidad & Tobago in May 2006, Bale set another record at the time as he became the youngest-ever Cymru player at the age of 16 years and 315 days. Over the course of the following 16 years he would score 41 goals from 111 appearances for his country, qualifying for two EURO finals as well as leading his side to the World Cup.
Bale’s finest hour with Cymru arrived in 2016 when Chris Coleman’s side defied the odds to the reach the semi-finals of the EURO’s. Playing a pivotal role in what the team achieved that summer, Bale scored in all three group games, and the iconic images capturing his passion for playing for his country continue to define that era of success.
When asked during EURO 2016 about what motivates him to continue to give his all for Cymru, Bale delivered the following line;
“The dragon on my shirt, that’s all I need.” The term legend is overused in the modern game, but there are few players as deserving of that accolade than Bale for the crucial part he has played in revolutionising the image of the national team off the field and delivering success on it.”
But while the Red Wall will remember the goals and the celebrations when reflecting on Bale’s incredible contribution, his legacy will also be in the development of the younger members of the squad who have turned to him for guidance and advice during recent camps. Bale would be the first to welcome the new additions from the pathway system into the senior squad and offer his experience.
At club level, Bale’s career is headlined by the five UEFA Champions League titles he won with Real Madrid, and he closes his career with the MLS Cup he won with Los Angeles FC prior to the World Cup. But what Cymru fans will remember about Bale was the dedication and commitment he showed when representing his country and the connection he enjoyed with the Red Wall.
A scorer of iconic goals, Bale eclipsed Ian Rush as the all-time leading Cymru goalscorer with a hat-trick against China back in March 2018. “This is right up there, if not the best achievement I have done,” said Bale after the match. “Anything you do for your country is the pinnacle, it is the biggest honour you can have. On a personal note it’s obviously great to break the record but I couldn’t have done it without my team-mates over the years.”
It is fitting that Bale’s final goal for Cymru came at the World Cup finals as Rob Page’s side earned their only point of the campaign with a 1-1 draw against the United States. While exiting the tournament at the group stage proved to be frustrating for all involved, it was his presence on the world stage that ticked the final box of his illustrious career.
Over the coming days and weeks there will be plenty of memories shared over Bale’s contribution to the Cymru cause and plenty of reasons offered to confirm his place as the greatest of all time to wear the dragon on his shirt. That was his motivation after all, and he will miss that feeling more than anything as he moves onto the next stage of his life.
Thank you Gareth, for everything.