Wales captain Gareth Bale retires from football aged 33

Gareth Bale has announced his retirement from football.

Bale, Wales’ most-capped men’s player with 111 appearances, confirmed the decision on social media.

The former Southampton, Tottenham and Real Madrid forward made his final competitive appearance during Wales’ World Cup group stage fixture with England on November 29.

Bale, 33, wrote on his social media accounts: “After careful and thoughtful consideration, I announce my immediate retirement from club and international football.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to have realised my dream of playing the sport I love.

“It has truly given me some of the best moments of my life. The highest of highs over 17 seasons, that will be impossible to replicate, no matter what the next chapter has in store for me.”

Speculation over Bale’s future has constantly been debated in recent seasons with his playing time at club level limited but his importance to Wales has never waned and he fired them to a first World Cup since 1958 with a deflected winner against Ukraine last summer.

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He left Real Madrid not long after to sign for Major League Soccer outfit Los Angeles FC and scored in his final club outing in November to help them win the MLS Cup with a penalty shoot-out success over Philadelphia Union.

It would prove the 17th trophy won by Bale during a glittering career and provided him with momentum ahead of Wales’ historic return to the world stage this winter.

Bale scored from the penalty spot in his country’s 1-1 draw with USA, but defeats to Iran and England saw Wales bow out in the group stage in Qatar.

While the five-time Champions League winner insisted that he may carry on, the Cardiff-born attacker has now decided to hang up his boots.

Real Madrid v Liverpool – UEFA Champions League – Final – NSK Olimpiyskiy Stadium
Gareth Bale enjoyed a trophy-laden spell at Real Madrid (Nick Potts/PA)

“My decision to retire from international football has been by far the hardest of my career,” Bale said.

“My journey on the international stage is one that has changed not only my life but who I am. The fortune of being Welsh and being selected to play for and captain Wales, has given me something incomparable to anything else I’ve experienced.

“I am honoured and humbled to have been able to play a part in the history of this incredible country, to have felt the support and passion of the red wall, and together have been to unexpected and amazing places.

“Thank you to every one of you for being on this journey with me.

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“So for now I am stepping back, but not away from the team that lives in me and runs through my veins. After all, the dragon on my shirt is all I need.”

Bale first made his mark after progressing through Southampton’s academy and marked his early appearances as a 16-year-old with a free-kick goal against Derby that would become his trademark.

A move to Tottenham in 2007 followed and after a tricky start in London, the Welshman firmly caught the attention of the football world with a string of dazzling displays at White Hart Lane, most notably in the Champions League during the 2010-11 campaign.

Soccer – Barclays Premier League – Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur – Villa Park
Bale starred for Tottenham before moving to Real Madrid for a then world record fee (David Davies/PA)

Real Madrid came calling and a then-world record fee of £85.1million saw him swap the Premier League for LaLiga.

Bale would spend nine years at the Bernabeu and even though his time in the Spanish capital was full of ups and downs, he would depart after becoming the most decorated British player to grace foreign shores.

The attacker was central to four of the five Champions League titles won by Madrid during his spell and memorably scored a wonder goal in the triumph over Liverpool in 2018.

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It was with his country where Bale was at his best consistently though, scoring 44 goals and helping Wales reach the Euro 2016 semi-finals in incredible fashion before ending their long wait for a World Cup return last year.

Bale added: “I feel indebted to many people for helping to change my life and shape my career in a way I couldn’t have ever dreamed of when I first started out at nine years old.

“To my previous clubs, Southampton, Tottenham, Real Madrid and finally LAFC. All of my previous managers and coaches, back room staff, team-mates, all the dedicated fans, my agents, my amazing friends and family, the impact you have had is immeasurable.

“I move on with anticipation to the next stage of my life. A time of change and transition, an opportunity for a new adventure.”