Gareth Bale has announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 33.
Bale made the surprise announcement on Monday in a statement posted on his social media channels.
It brings an end to a career that saw Bale excel for Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, Real Madrid and LAFC, while also establishing himself as one of the greatest players in Welsh football history.
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"After careful and thoughtful consideration, I announce my immediate retirement from club and international football," Bale said in a statement.
"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."
At club level, Bale started his professional career at Southampton, and his form there earned him a move to Tottenham in May 2007. He joined Spurs as a left-back but was soon shifted to a position on the left of Tottenham's attacking line, and he then established himself as one of the best players in the world.
He won an array of individual awards for his performances at the Premier League team, and in September 2013, Madrid signed Bale on a six-year deal for a then-world-record fee of €100 million.
January 9, 2023
In Spain, Bale won three La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey and five Champions Leagues (2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2022). Although he was frozen out in the latter stages of his Madrid contract, he contributed some historic moments for Los Blancos, including his stunning overhead kick in their 3-1 win over Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final.
Towards the end of his Madrid career, he spent the 2020-21 campaign on loan back at Spurs. And after one final season back at Madrid, he left the club in June 2022 at the end of his contract and signed a 12-month deal with LAFC.
He made 14 appearances in the States, and his greatest contribution came with a 128th-minute extra-time header in the MLS Cup final that saw LAFC draw the game level 3-3 against Philadelphia Union. That forced the match to a penalty shootout, which led to LAFC securing their first major trophy.
"To show my gratitude to all of those that have played their part along this journey feels like an impossibility," Bale added. "I feel indebted to many people for helping to change my life and shape my career in a way I couldn't ever have dreamed of when I first started out at 9 years old.
"To my previous clubs Southampton, Tottenham, Real Madrid and finally LAFC, all of my managers and coaches, backroom staff, teammates, all the dedicated fans, my agents, my amazing friends and family, the impact you have had is immeasurable."
Bale's last act in football was playing for Wales in the 2022 World Cup, where he earned the last of his record-breaking 111 caps in their 3-0 defeat to England. He captained the team into that competition and, in announcing his retirement, issued a separate statement addressed to his "Welsh family."
January 9, 2023
He calls time on his international career as the most capped Wales men's player with 111 appearances, sitting alongside his record-setting 41 goals. He helped the team to their journey to the semifinals of Euro 2016, alongside spearheading their campaigns at Euro 2020 and the recent World Cup, in what was the Welsh men's teams first appearance in the World Cup since 1958.
"My journey on the international stage is one that has changed not only my life but who I am," Bale wrote. "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."
Bale has not announced what his next plans are: "I move on with anticipation to the next stage of my life," he wrote in his retirement statement. "A time of change and transition, an opportunity for a new adventure."
Whatever form that new adventure takes, he says he will keep a close eye on his Wales team.
"So for now I am stepping back, but not away from the team that lives in me and runs through my veins," he added. "After all, the dragon on my shirt is all I need."