It sounded like the perfect move. Gareth Bale, born and raised in Cardiff, joining the city’s football club in a dream homecoming as he prepares to lead the Welsh national team in their first World Cup in 64 years.
There was a real sense last week that remarkably, it was a deal that was entirely possible.
Bale held discussions with Cardiff boss Steve Morison as the Championship club share a training ground with the FAW, where he was undergoing physio work with the national team’s medical staff. The 32-year-old has reached a point in his career where money is not important, so wages would not have been issue.
Wales captain Gareth Bale held discussions with Cardiff as he weighed up his next move
But of course, the Bluebirds were not the only club interested in signing him. Jonathan Barnett, Bale’s agent, told The Athletic that ‘four or five serious offers’ had been made for the forward, who exited Real Madrid as a free agent after nine years in the Spanish capital.
In the end, it would come down to personal choice and Bale decided his next destination would be MLS side LAFC – on a one-year contract with potential for an 18-month extension.
It would be remiss to say that Bale has shut the door on his hometown for good, because there is still a chance that he ends up at Cardiff later down the line.
The offer to move back to the Welsh capital will likely still be on the table for however long he continues playing, with Bluebirds chairman Mehmet Dalman telling WalesOnline that Bale would ‘always be welcome’ at the club. The chance to play in Los Angeles, however, may not come around again.
The 32-year-old eventually decided to join LAFC on a one-year deal with a possible extension
From a footballing perspective, Bale is joining a side who are top of MLS’ Western Conference at the halfway stage of the campaign. Former USA international Steve Cherundolo is forging an impressive reputation in his first season as manager, while ex-Arsenal forward Carlos Vela, 33, continues to bang in the goals in his fifth year at the club.
Midfielder Jose Cifuentes was a Manchester City target a couple of years ago, while 22-year-old Brian Rodriguez is considered one of the hottest prospects in MLS and already has 17 caps for Uruguay.
LAFC had already made headlines with one big summer signing before Bale’s arrival, with Euro 2020 winner Giorgio Chiellini joining from Juventus. In short, it is a club that is not short of ambition. It is no retirement home.
‘I want to win. This team wants to win,’ the club’s co-president and general manager John Thorrington told ESPN on Sunday. ‘So [MLS Cup] is our absolute ambition, to win everything that we are in contention for, qualify for Champions League, and really become a bigger and bigger part of the global conversation.’
Euro 2020 winner Giorgio Chiellini has been another headline addition for LAFC this summer
Ex-Arsenal forward Carlos Vela, 33, is in his fifth season at LAFC and still scoring goals
Wherever Bale went this summer, it was always going to be with the World Cup in mind. After making just seven appearances for Real Madrid last season, he has made no secret of his desire to play regular football in the build-up to the tournament in Qatar.
He will get that at LAFC, while equally not being at risk of burning out by the winter. Cherundolo has plenty of attacking talent at his disposal with Vela, Rodriguez and Cristian Arango so has no need to rely too heavily on Bale.
The MLS season also fits perfectly into the forward’s preparations. The regular campaign finishes on October 9 and is followed by the play-offs and MLS Cup final on November 5.
Wales’ opening game in Qatar is against, fittingly, the USA on November 21. If all goes to plan, Bale will arrive at the tournament in peak condition and potentially with some silverware under his belt.
Then of course there is the pull of the Los Angeles lifestyle. Anyone would hardly need a second thought when given the choice between Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica beach or Chippy Lane, the River Taff and Barry Island.
Bale is desperate for regular minutes after playing just seven games for Real Madrid last term
Whoever Bale signed for, it was always going to be with Wales and the World Cup in mind
Bale is a modern day football icon but his star pales in comparison to some of the personalities of the entertainment world who reside in LA. That in itself will be of huge appeal to the Welshman, who is known to enjoy a quiet lifestyle away from the limelight.
Steven Gerrard, who spent a year at LA Galaxy at the end of his career, has said it was ‘refreshing’ to be a little-known name in the city.
‘I think it’s been noticeable for all my family, and certainly for me, since I’ve come out of Liverpool and stepped back,’ Gerrard told MR PORTER. ‘I do feel lighter, like I’ve got more time. I’m a better dad, person and friend just because I’m living my life with a little less pressure.
‘The refreshing and the peaceful side of it over here is no one knows who I am. I can walk down the street, go to a coffee shop, go out for a meal, take the girls to Disneyland or to the cinema and, 99 per cent of the time, people don’t know who I am. That’s a nice change.’
Let’s not forget Bale’s passion for golf either. The west coast city is home to 19 courses and some of the best in the USA, including The Riviera and Los Angeles Country Club. Training in the morning and then 18 holes at a beautiful, iconic venue that has hosted Major championships? Doesn’t sound too bad.
Bale has expressed his love of Los Angeles in the past and spoke glowingly of MLS too.
The Los Angeles lifestyle will have been appealing and Bale will be able live quietly in the city
Golf fanatic Bale will be teeing off at The Riviera, which has hosted Major championships
‘I really like the league,’ Bale told the Hat-Trick Podcast in 2020. ‘It’s grown so much over the years. When we come over and play now in pre-season, the games are difficult.
‘The standard is a lot better. All the clubs are improving, the facilities are improving, the stadiums are improving.
‘It’s a league that’s on the up and still rising, and I think a lot more players want to come over to America now to play. I’d definitely be interested in it. I love going to Los Angeles on holiday.’
Perhaps his decision to move stateside wasn’t that hard after all.