After an eight-year career with Real Madrid that included over 250 appearances, 100 goals and a preposterous haul of 16 trophies (including five Champions League crowns and three LaLiga titles), Gareth Bale has confirmed his departure from the Spanish capital following the expiration of his contract.
Bale's first five seasons at the club — when he was scoring around 15 league goals each campaign and consistently proving decisive in knockout competitions — will go down in history as the halcyon days of Real Madrid's vaunted "BBC" attacking trio of Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Benzema's ability to orchestrate, involve and combine with fellow attackers remains godlike, but when he had prime Bale and Ronaldo tearing down the flanks with Luka Modrić and Toni Kroos spraying balls from midfield, well, that was arguably the most frightening counterattacking unit ever assembled, and it laid waste to the notion that counterattacking football was boring. It was hot and it was heavy.
"I write this message to say thank you to all my teammates, past and present, my managers, the backroom staff and to the fans that supported me," Bale penned in an open letter. "I arrived here nine years ago as a young man who wanted to realize my dream of playing for Real Madrid. To wear the pristine white kit, to wear the crest on my chest, to play at the Santiago Bernabéu, to win titles and to be part of what it's so famous for, to win the Champions League. I can now look back, reflect and say with honesty that this dream became a reality and much, much more."
Unfortunately, every article on Bale's exit also has to touch on the Welshman's final three years in Madrid. Ronaldo's departure following the 2017-18 campaign put much of the focus unfairly on Bale, and the Santiago Bernabéu quickly turned on him during an injury disrupted 2018-19 season.
We all know his final two years with the club were a joke, but Madridistas whistling Bale was always their own problem, not Bale's. And who, when looking back on the restart of the 2019-20 season in mid-June with matches every single day for over a month straight in front of empty stadiums to fulfill broadcast contracts, can argue that Bale wasn't applying exactly the right sort of attitude towards it all?
This was the absolute worst of times, but Bale brought a bit of levity into our daily existences by building his own binoculars.
Five years from now, all these little details will fade and the only lasting memories will be testaments to his greatness — the jaw-dropping goals played on repeat.
Top 5 Gareth Bale Best Real Madrid Goals
#5. Gareth Bale Goal vs. Schalke (UCL, 02/26/2014)
In the 2013-14 season, Bale's first in Madrid, Los Blancos came up against Schalke in the Champions League Round of 16. The first leg was at Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen and Real stormed to a 6-1 away win with Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo each scoring a brace.
Bale scored Real's second of the evening with this mesmerizing solo dribble from the top of the area that snatched the souls of two Schalke defenders.
#4. Gareth Bale Goal vs. Elche (LaLiga, 02/22/2014)
During Bale's final season at Tottenham in 2012-13, when he scored 21 goals in 33 Premier League appearances, it felt like he was dropping the hammer from outside the area on a weekly basis. He unleashed a few long-range torpedoes with Real, but this crossbar down effort from 30 yards out was a memorable piece of violence.
#3. Gareth Bale Goal vs. Legia Warsaw (UCL, 11/02/2016)
Fresh off signing his final Real Madrid contract — one that earned him $428,347 per week for six years — Bale took all of 57 seconds to score this wonder goal against Legia Warsaw during the 2016-17 UCL group stage. The combination of technique, power, invention and "I'm gonna do it all by myself" is singularly Bale.
Year - 2016.Legia Warsaw v Real Madrid.
— EuropeanGoals. (@ThrowbackUefa) January 22, 2019
#2. Gareth Bale Goal vs. Liverpool (UCL, 05/26/2018)
The go-ahead goal in the 2018 Champions League Final and it's one of the best goals ever scored. Enough said.
Gareth Bale's goal is better with Titanic music pic.twitter.com/Tp3xOKXui1— khaos (@khaosbob) May 26, 2018
#1. Gareth Bale Goal vs. Barcelona (Copa, 05/16/2014)
The strike against Liverpool could easily go here — UCL final, everyone loves a bicycle kick, etc. — but this entire sequence of Bale shifting through the gears and churning through Tata Martino's technical area like an unbridled stallion while Marc Bartra learns every single physical limitation of his entire being, is one of El Clásico's greatest moments.
Don't forget it was an 85th-minute winner in the 2014 Copa del Rey Final.