Gareth Bale’s decision to retire from professional football comes at the “right time”, according to Wales manager Rob Page.
Bale announced on Monday he had decided to call time on a glorious career, having finally been able to represent his country at the World Cup.
Once the most expensive player of all time when he made the move to Real Madrid from Tottenham, Bale won everything possible during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu, including five Champions League titles – only Paco Gento (six) has more (Champions League/European Cup).
While some might have been surprised by Bale’s decision given he is still only 33, his decline over the past few years – partly due to injuries – has been significant, as evidenced by his MLS struggles with Los Angeles FC and a lack of impact for Wales at Qatar 2022.
Page was not among those caught off guard by the news.
“Gareth messaged to say he needed a conversation,” Page told BBC Radio Wales.
“I knew it was something significant, but when he announced it to me, it didn’t come as a complete surprise.
“I told him I think it’s the right time to bow out. You’ve just scored in a World Cup and got everything on your CV, what you’ve done for this country is unbelievable.”
Wales’ next fixtures are at the end of March when they face Croatia and Latvia to begin their Euro 2024 qualification campaign.
Page had planned to include Bale in his squad, though he recognised the World Cup did highlight certain inadequacies.
— Wales (@Cymru) January 9, 2023
“He would have had a part to play,” Page continued. “The roles might have changed slightly. Would he be able to play 90 minutes back to back?
“Lessons have been learned from Qatar, the athleticism every team had out there. It’s too big an ask probably for him, he might have been an impact player coming off the bench.
“There’s a mixture of emotions for me. I’m excited now because it’s an opportunity to get some of the young ones through – players like Brennan Johnson to take the opportunity and step up to the plate – and get the next Gareth Bale.
“But there’s also a hint of sadness because it’s the last time we’ll see Gareth Bale putting a pair of boots on for Wales.”
But that is not to say Bale will be gone for good.
It remains to be seen what he goes on to do now he is not playing, but Page is eager to get Bale involved in the Wales setup again.
“I would love him still to be involved in some capacity, what that role is don’t know yet,” he said.
“It’s a big adjustment for him, going into a normalish life, but we’ll have another conversation with him in a few weeks.
“We’ll make a plan moving forward because he’s got so much to offer in a changing room and hotel environment.
“His presence is something I would be really keen on, to keep him involved, but I’ll leave it up to Gareth and what suits him and his family.
“You’ve seen Belgium do it with Thierry Henry. Ex-players stepping up, whether it’s a coaching role, an ambassadorial role, or being part of a committee making decisions.
“I’m sure the FAW [Football Association of Wales] would also be keen to keep Gareth involved in some capacity.”
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