By Paul Jones
Gareth Bale deserves a statue built in his honour, according to Wales manager Rob Page.
Bale, a five-time Champions League winner at Real Madrid, announced his retirement on Monday after winning 111 caps and scoring 41 goals for his country – two Wales men’s team records.
The 33-year-old’s decision came after Wales’ disappointing performance at the World Cup when Page’s team failed to get out of their group.
Bale struggled in Qatar due to a lack of match fitness, but did score his final Wales goal from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw with the United States.
Rugby great Gareth Edwards has a statue to mark his achievements in Cardiff – and Page says he would back a similar tribute to Bale, possibly at the Cardiff City Stadium where some of the former Wales captain’s greatest football moments happened.
“He’s been such a legend and an icon for all the children, I fully support that absolutely,” said Page.
“What a career that man has had. It’s phenomenal. But it’s not just the football team, it’s what he’s done for the country.
“He’s helped us qualify for the World Cup, which has raised our profile as a country. He has put us on the map globally.
“From a cultural point of view, as well as a football point of view, everybody from Wales should be very proud of him.”
Bale contacted Page on Sunday to tell him that he was retiring from football completely, having made a similar call to his MLS club Los Angeles FC.
Page agreed with the decision – “he’s at a stage of life he had achieved everything he wanted to” – and spent Monday watching a montage of Bale’s greatest goals and moments.
He now hopes Bale remains in the Wales set-up in some capacity, with talks planned “in the next few weeks” over what that might entail.
Page said: “He was really passionate about his country and not afraid to tell people of the pecking order of where he was with golf, club football and playing for Wales.
“When you’ve got somebody of Gareth’s stature, what he’s done for Wales, the impact he can have – even being in the changing room being around the players – I’ve got to take advantage of that.
“He’s interested to do it, and I would like to keep him involved.
“There might have already been discussions before this about him staying involved in some capacity.
“But the important thing right now is to celebrate his career and what he’s done for us as a nation.”
On Bale’s decision to retire, Page added: “It did came as a surprise at that moment.
“I wasn’t expecting that from him in that phone call, but if you take a step back and strip the emotions out of it I understand why he’s done it. To finish at the top, I get.
“It’s sad and quite emotional knowing that Gareth won’t pull on a pair of boots again for Wales.
“But on the flip side it gives an opportunity for Brennan Johnson, who I’ve used as an example, to nail down that position.”
Wales start their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign in March and Page confirmed that Bale, who was playing for Los Angeles FC in the MLS, would have been selected for that double-header against Croatia and Latvia.
He said: “He would have had a part to play. The roles might have changed slightly.
“Would he be able to play 90 minutes back to back? Lessons have been learned from Qatar, the athleticism every team had out there.
“It’s too big an ask probably for him, he might have been an impact player coming off the bench.
“There’s a mixture of emotions for me. I’m excited now because it’s an opportunity to get some of the young ones through – players like Brennan Johnson to take the opportunity and step up to the plate – and get the next Gareth Bale.
“But there’s also a hint of sadness because it’s the last time we’ll see Gareth Bale putting a pair of boots on for Wales.”
— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) January 9, 2023
Page says he has had a conversation with Bale about him staying within the Wales set up, although the exact nature of that role remains unclear.
“I would love him still to be involved in some capacity, what that role is don’t know yet,” he said.
“It’s a big adjustment for him, going into a normalish life, but we’ll have another conversation with him in a few weeks.
“We’ll make a plan moving forward because he’s got so much to offer in a changing room and hotel environment.
“His presence is something I would be really keen on, to keep him involved, but I’ll leave it up to Gareth and what suits him and his family.
“You’ve seen Belgium do it with Thierry Henry. Ex-players stepping up, whether it’s a coaching role, an ambassadorial role, or being part of a committee making decisions.
“I’m sure the FAW (Football Association of Wales) would also be keen to keep Gareth involved in some capacity.”
LAFC had named Bale in their pre-season camp on Sunday before being told that he was quitting the game.
“It did surprise us in one sense but on the other hand, once he explained where he was at mentally and physically we completely understood and respected the decision,” LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington said at a press conference.
“We appreciate their forthrightness in coming to us when they did.
“Last year I think the frustration, mostly for Gareth but for us, is things were a bit stop-start at times.”
Bale started just two games after moving to the United States in June, scoring three goals in 13 appearances overall.
But Bale provided a lasting legacy as his stoppage-time header against Philadelphia Union took the MLS Cup final to penalties, which LAFC eventually won to lift the trophy for the first time.
History Made. pic.twitter.com/7urRZdlGYd
— LAFC (@LAFC) January 9, 2023
Thorrington said: “I think there was temptation where that frustration would win the day when we talk about the narrative of what Gareth Bale’s time at LAFC meant here.
“We have an MLS Cup because of everybody, but without him we don’t have an MLS Cup.
“The ultimate conclusion of his story here in six short months is that it worked. He’s forever a part of LAFC history.”
Bale’s one-time manager at Real Madrid, Julen Lopetegui, is now in charge of Wolves and offered an alternative view of the Welshman’s achievements.
“I think he is one of the players with the better strengths that I have seen,” said Lopetegui, who was Real boss for less than four months in 2018.
“Maybe he doesn’t take advantage of these strengths.
“It was a pity in my opinion.”