Gareth Bale might just become one of the best players to ever leave the Premier League and play abroad.
If you go back to the late ’50s you will find another Welshman, John Charles, plying his trade away from the UK. Charles became a cult hero, and still is to this day, for Juventus, whilst in the decades that followed, Dennis Law and Jimmy Greaves had tortuous times in Italy. Kevin Keegan saw success in Germany and the ’80s, and ’90s saw mixed fortunes for many in Serie A.
Quite a few players left these shores for La Liga in search of fame, fortune and silverware… from Gary Lineker, to Michael Owen, to Steve McManaman and David Beckham, besides others.
But Gareth Bale is beginning to eclipse them all. The Welsh team’s talisman will showcase his skills in this summer’s European Championship, but on Saturday for Real Madrid, he collected his second Champions League winner’s medal in three seasons.
And there’s more for the ex-Tottenham man.
Gareth Bale is now officially best of British when it comes to playing in La Liga after he beat Gary Lineker’s league scoring record in March this year at the Santiago Bernabeu. In under three seasons, Bale has topped Lineker’s haul of 42 goals in 103 games for Barcelona. He has now scored 43, and he only needed 76 matches to break the record.
Bale scored on his comeback in Real Madrid’s 7-1 win over Celta Vigo after a six-week spell on the sidelines with a calf injury, but he was left waiting to pass the England goalscoring legend when he didn’t score against Las Palmas at the end of that month.
The winger has long since eclipsed Steve Archibald (24 goals in 55 games), Michael Owen (13 in 36), David Beckham (13 in 116) and Steve McManaman (eight in 94).
No other British player has enjoyed this kind of success abroad before and is unlikely to for some time, because, despite some rumours, why would Bale now leave Real and come back to the Premier League?
He will in time, perhaps, but for now, the European champions could give him a third UCL medal next season plus a determined challenge for a La Liga title against a Barcelona team that looks like it is breaking up.
His second European title with Real Madrid makes him only the second Brit after Steve McManaman to win that competition or in it’s previous format, the European Cup, more than once with a foreign club since 1956. Scotland’s Paul Lambert and England’s Owen Hargreaves are the only others to win the trophy with a foreign club — Lambert with Dortmund in 1997 and Owen Hargreaves at Bayern Munich in 2001.
Four other British players have been runners-up: Kevin Keegan (Hamburg, 1980), Laurie Cunningham (Real Madrid, 1981), Steve Archibald (Barcelona, 1986) and Chris Waddle (Marseille, 1991).
But it is the consummate talents of Bale that make him, so far, the UK’s most successful player abroad. He is yet to be crowned European footballer of the year or a Ballon d’Or winner, as Keegan did twice in 1978 and 1979.
However Keegan didn’t have a team-mate like Cristiano Ronaldo or a rival like Lionel Messi of Barcelona to compete against. Bale will go from strength to strength and at 26 years old time is on his side.
Like McManaman at Real, Lineker at Barcelona and Charles at Juventus, Bale will become another cult hero and up there with the very best.