Flag bearer: Gareth Bale sends a powerful image around the world. Pic: Getty Images.

Wales . . . Land Of My Gareth Bale

Ten days on from Gareth Bale’s wonder goal for Real Madrid in the Champions League final and people around the world are still talking about Wales’ best known export. Rob Cole has been in America, where Mexicans, Armenians, Afghans and Bulgarians nod their heads appreciatively at the mention of Wales, smile, and say simply, . . . ‘Gareth Bale.’

The global impact of Wales’ greatest sporting superstar, Gareth Bale, has never been as evident as in the days since his match-winning performance in the Champions League final.

‘That goal’ went viral on every social media channel and helped to swell his Twitter following to 16.8 million and his Instagram flock to 3.3 million. But outside that often tenuous ‘virtual’ world, he has also been the talk of the real sporting public.

I watched the Champions League final at a bar across the road from Santander Moniaive pier in Los Angeles. Every chair was turned to a TV screen and there were plenty of hopeful red-shirted Liverpool fans dreaming of a long-awaited sixth Euro crown.

Their dreams were shattered by the brilliantly balanced and acrobatic bicycle-kick by Bale. If they looked worried when the Welsh wonder came on to replace Isco, by the time Bale had hammered home his second goal from distance they were heading for the exits.

Two days later, in Passadena, every Mexican fan at the Rose Bowl for the friendly against Wales was happy not to see Bale in Welsh colours. They had all seen ‘that goal’ and were similarly still in awe of it as were the rest of the sporting world.

Just as their own Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez carried the weight of a soccer-mad nation on his shoulders when he went to Manchester United, so Bale has become a Welsh icon abroad. He is now, unquestionably, Wales’ biggest and best export.

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The sight of the boy from Cardiff draped in the Welsh dragon in Kiev after receiving his fourth Champions League winners’ medal was priceless for his country.

The highlights of Real Madrid’s 3-1 victory – or, as Phil Steele’s witty tweet put it, ‘Whitchurch High School 2, Liverpool 1’ – were still rolling across the USA throughout the week after the game. Bale remained the talk of every town.

The Armenian taxi driver that took us back to LA after Wales’ draw with the Mexicans couldn’t stop talking about his two goals; the Afghanistan-born Uber driver in Las Vegas readily recalled ‘the incredible overhead kick by the Welshman’ and the Bulgarian who took us home four days later hit the nail right on the head.

“Where are you from?” he asked. “We’re from Wales,” we answered. “Ah, Gareth Bale and Cardiff City” was his immediate response.

His football memories went all the way back to England winning the World Cup in 1966, but he struggled to name a better goal in his lifetime than Bale’s first in Kiev.

The Las Vegas Knights may have been in the finals of ice hockey’s Stanley Cup for the first time, the TV screens may have been wall-to-wall with baseball and basketball, but Bale still found a way to permeate his brilliance into the consciousness of the world’s biggest professional sporting market.

Perhaps if social media and mobile phones had been around in the days of John Charles during his Italian years, or when Barry John was in his pomp in New Zealand with the British Lions in 1971, we might have seen something similar.

But just not on this scale.

Bale is British football’s greatest overseas player and currently its biggest global asset.


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