Gareth Bale: Wales' greatest ever footballing export was a normal bloke with abnormal abilities

Many claim Bale to be Britain's greatest ever footballing export. Credit: PA

They say home is where the heart is, and that was certainly true in the case of Gareth Bale.

Wales’ talisman, our greatest ever footballing export, was a normal bloke with abnormal abilities.

That was never more evident than when he punched in at the national side’s training base just outside Cardiff for international blocks of fixtures.

Bale lifted his country to heights that had never been reached before. Credit: PA

Particularly when the fans at Real Madrid turned on him - despite him playing a key role in winning five Champions League titles at the club - the Vale Resort became a sanctuary.

He would go from an environment where it was easy to feel hated by those who were supposed to support, surrounded by teammates who spoke different languages and shared different cultural values.

Make no mistake, he was well-rewarded for his talents but it is easy to feel isolated in such circumstances.

But when he returned to the green grass of home, Bale was showered with the adoration that his exploits deserved. Here, he was surrounded by fans who loved him and teammates who he grew up playing with.

In training Bale would laugh and play jokes on teammates and coaches. Credit: PA

In the Wales camp, he was surrounded by people who he’d developed with since he was a teenager, he’d experienced highs and lows with. They were his friends.

Bale was a superstar who, frankly, had every right to behave like one because his list of achievements are endless. But he never did.

When he was surrounded by the likes of Wayne Hennessey, Aaron Ramsey and players of that generation he was, well, normal.

In training, he’d laugh, he’d play jokes on teammates and coaches. He looked at ease and it transferred onto the pitch.

Bale was close to and grew up with the likes of Wayne Hennessey and Aaron Ramsey. Credit: PA

Everyone has a Gareth Bale goal that sticks in their mind and there are too many important ones to list. But the strikes that standout, including the goal against Andorra in 2014 which prevented the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign ending before it began.

Then there is, of course, the goal against Belgium that propelled Wales towards qualification for that tournament.

Not to mention the deflected free-kick against Ukraine, that took Wales to its first World Cup in 64 years. The list goes on.

Whenever his country needed him, Bale delivered.

He always put his country first - and it may well have inflamed some of the issues that surfaced in Madrid - and, in doing so, he became a tremendous ambassador for the nation.

Bale loved representing his country - it is significant that he published one retirement statement for Wales fans and one for everybody else - and his country loved him.

At 33, Bale could well have squeezed another few years out of his body but there is a sense that it was, perhaps, no longer able to do the things it once was.

In truth, he had nothing left to prove and we are all lucky to have been around to witness his greatness.

  • Wales manager Rob Page and former Wales international Neil Taylor pay tribute to Gareth Bale