What next for Gareth Bale – where will one of the most sought-after free agents end up?

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For a five-time UEFA Champions League winner, Gareth Bale has plenty of choices of where to head next following his departure from Real Madrid. But who does Gareth Bale play for next? With the line drawn under his time at the Bernabeu after falling out of favour with the La Liga club, a fresh start awaits the Welshman.

The Wales captain, who turns 33 years old this summer, is coming into the twilight years of his career. So what will Gareth Bale do next? Will a big payday lure him over to the MLS, or will he look a little closer to home for his next move?

Cardiff calling for Bale?

Bale’s hometown club Cardiff are reportedly interested in getting Bale’s signature for next season. This is a fascinating prospect. It would see Bale slide from La Liga and Champions League football to the second tier in England.

It would also mean taking a huge pay cut from his lucrative Real Madrid contract. Bale could, in all honesty, command higher wages than the Championship outfit is likely to put on the table.

But what would a move to Cardiff mean for Bale? The interesting thing here is that it is a FIFA World Cup year, with the big kick-off in Qatar in November. Wales are back on the biggest stage of international football for the first time in 64 years.

As captain of his country, Gareth Bale would maybe have considerations about sticking closer to home with a move to Cardiff. It would allow him to keep close to the national set-up for training during the build-up for the tournament.

A reported visit by Bale to Cardiff’s Vale of Glamorgan base earlier this month, fuelled further speculation about a move. But there may not be too much to read into that. The Welsh FA’s medical staff work there, meaning that Bale may have been there simply for a health and fitness check-up.

The 2022 World Cup is going to be Bale’s priority. Working with the Welsh FA to ensure peak fitness for the tournament is going top of the list. But still, there have reportedly been talks between Bale’s agents and Cardiff who finished in 18th place in last season’s Championship campaign.

Premier League return for Gareth Bale?

But Cardiff City may not be alone in wanting to lure Bale back to British soil. Other options for him may exist in the English top flight. Bale spent some of the 2020/21 season on loan at former Premier League club Tottenham. During that period he net 11 goals in 20 appearances across all competitions.

So his former club could be a possible destination for him. Tottenham secured a top-four finish in last season’s Premier League. That means that they are going to have the UEFA Champions action to deal with this term. That could be an appealing factor for Bale.

Those extra demands of the UEFA Champions League may well tempt boss Antonio Conte to bring in quality strength in depth. Bale in that regard, wouldn’t be a bad option considering that he is a free agent. Spurs would only need to come to terms on wages with him.

Newcastle are another Premier League side which have, at least in the sports news circles, been linked with a move for Bale. Newcastle have new funds to play with after their takeover last year. Bale would be a high-profile capture for them. However, it may not exactly be the way forward for the Magpies who are working towards the future.

MLS calling?

The likes of David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney all went over to the United States towards the end of their playing careers. The MLS continues to be a prime destination for European players to play out their professional careers. Bale would likely have plenty of offers from there.

A move to the MLS, which is currently mid-way through the 2022 season, would fit into Bale’s World Cup plans. North America’s top league finishes in October, which means that Bale would benefit from playing time between the summer and the close of the season.

There would also be a short break at the end of an MLS campaign to go off and captain Wales at the FIFA World Cup. The rest of the winter would be free for Bale until the 2023 season of the MLS which would probably start in late February.

Perhaps the biggest lure of the MLS would be the money. Clubs there have not been afraid to throw big salaries at big names from the world of football. The likes of Beckham, Zlatan Ibrhahimovic, Thierry Henry and more recently former Italy campaign Georgio Chielinini have taken that route.

From Southampton to…where?

After spending many years on the south coast as a junior player with Southampton, Bale’s professional career started back in 2006 when he made his professional debut with the club. The young Welshman at the time was plying his trade as a full-back. But he quickly made people sit up and notice with his free-kick-taking ability.

Across the course of the season, the 16-year-old Bale had done enough for Tottenham Hotspur to come in with an initial bid of £5 million as they saw his potential. He made his debut for the North Londoners early in the 2007/08 campaign.

It was following the move to Spurs, who at the time were managed by Harry Redknapp, that Bale as an attacking force was really unleashed. He was pushed further up the pitch and was developed into a winger.

Bale battles through injuries

That first season with Tottenham hit a huge stumbling block when Bale picked up an injury in December 2007. He didn’t return for the rest of the season. But in the autumn of 2008, he was given a contract extension by Tottenham who decided to be patient with him.

Bale’s time at Tottenham was disrupted a lot by injuries. His first win with Tottenham in the Premier League didn’t actually happen until early in the 2009 season. That was when he came on as a late substitute in a game.  Bale was not a guaranteed first team starter at that point.

But 2010 is when the form of Bale started its rapid rise. The goals started to come and he was trusted with more and more appearances until he became an invaluable asset.

Gareth Bale shines on the Champions League stage

The 2010/11 UEFA Champions League was arguably when Bale took things to the next level. Tottenham caused an upset in the group stage of the competition by beating Inter Milan to the top spot.

In that group stage campaign, Bale really shone with stunning individual performances in both fixtures against Inter. That included a hattrick at the San Siro in a 4-3 loss.

After they famously beat AC Milan then in the round of sixteen, Tottenham were eliminated in the quarter finals by Real Madrid. But Gareth Bale was firmly on the radar as a transfer target and with his form not dropping, Real Madrid snapped him up in 2013 in a then world-record transfer.

Gareth Bale’s Champions League Titles

  • 2013/14
  • 2015/16
  • 2016/17
  • 2017/18
  • 2021/22

Highs and lows at Real Madrid

Bale didn’t take too long to settle in at Real Madrid. With his pace and power, he quickly confirmed that he belonged among the elite that he was surrounded by in the team, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

In his first season with Real Madrid, Bale was a Champions League winner, a Copa del Rey winner and had produced 22 goals and 16 assists. The sky was pretty much the limit for him at that point, but things didn’t last.

Despite winning more silverware on both the domestic front and in the UEFA Champions League with Madrid, a void between player and club grew. Not even his outstanding overhead kick in the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final against Liverpool, really changed much.

In 2019 it looked as if Bale’s time at Real Madrid, which had descended into limited appearances, looked to be coming to an end. By all accounts, he was set for a move to China before Real Madrid scuppered the move.

Bale argued that he had asked to leave. The then Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane said that he hadn’t, further fracturing Bale’s relationship with the club.

A brief return to Tottenham

Bale was sent to Tottenham on loan for the 2020/21 Premier League season. He was welcomed back with open arms there and that was really the list of top club level action for him.

Injuries and just being out of favour in general at Real Madrid, saw Gareth Bale barely get any playing time in 2021/22. He did get his fifth UEFA Champions League winner’s medal however on his way out of the door along with a third La Liga title.

2022 World Cup Chance for Gareth Bale

So with last season being a bust for Bale, there is a lot of work for him to do in terms of match fitness, to ensure that he’s ready for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. His debut for his country happened back in 2006 and since then has set records for his country.

Bale is the all-time leading scorer for Wales. He netted three goals during a brilliant form by Wales at Euro 2016 in which they reached the semi-finals. That’s what he will hope to do for his country at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

After winning matches against Scotland and then Ukraine in the World Cup qualifying playoffs, Wales will be back on the biggest stage of all for the first time in more than six decades. In the group stage, they face a mouthwatering clash with England and also meet Iran and the United States.

In World Cup 2022 odds, Wales are second-favourites to qualify from that section behind neighbours England. The 2022 World Cup may well be the cherry on the cake in Bale’s long and brilliant career.

The big question is, which club will get the best of Gareth Bale in his build-up?