Bale’s 30 at 30

On the eve of Gareth Bale’s 30th birthday Leon Barton picks his top 30 Bale moments with Wales.

I argued three years ago that Gareth Bale was our greatest ever footballer. Tomorrow Bale turns 30 and although I make that claim with no less absolute certainty, it is strange the way such an extraordinary career appears underwhelming to so many. 

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Football writer of the year Barney Ronay for instance, who, in a piece for The Guardian earlier this year, asked:

Has there been a more forgettable unforgettable career? Has there ever been a more bloodless full-blooded success, so frictionless the first stage in appreciating its majesty is to remind yourself it actually exists?” 

It was left to Bluebird82 in the comments section to point out the inherent truth that “if he was English the narrative would be completely different”.

In a ‘below the line’ summary that eloquently takes apart Ronay’s entire premise for the piece, Bluebird82 then goes on to say:

“[Bale] has given everything to Wales, dragging us to our first major tournament since 1958 and reaching the semi final – a monumental feat for a tiny nation…

To me and every other Wales fan, the man is pure magic”

Yep.

And to celebrate that Welsh magic, I thought it would be fun to have a little look back at my thirty favourite Bale Wales moments.

Gareth Bale vs Belgium 2014

30. Goal line clearance vs Belgium, 2014 – An important moment late on in a game in which a highly satisfactory and valuable point was gained in Brussels.

29. Assist for Earnshaw on debut, 2006 – 16 years old and he comes on to set up the winner.  A sign of things to come. 

28. Pass to Hal Robson-Kanu vs Cyprus, 2014 Define ‘deft’.

27. “None” Bale’s cheeky answer when asked how many of England’s players would get into Wales’ team at Euro 2016 summed up the spirit of ‘let’s have some fun here’ which served Wales so well at the tournament.

Graetrh Bale, press conference

26. Header vs Andorra, 2014It’s perhaps testament to how well Andorra defended their lead in this game that it took two moments of Bale brilliance to bend the match to Wales’ will. This superb header to put Wales back on level terms was the first of them.

25. Goal vs Norway, 2011Fierce. A goal which showed Bale, and Wales’, newfound confidence following the three wins in four games which proceeded this emphatic 4-1 victory.  Sadly, just a couple of weeks on, the tragic news about manager Gary Speed came through.

Wales vs Norway 2011

24. Goal vs Austria, 2013 – Great ball from Joe Allen, sheer quality from Bale to do the rest at the Liberty Stadium.

23. Throw in vs Croatia for the Harry Wilson chance, 2019 – Best throw-in of all time? Shame Wilson’s shot was so weak.

22. Goal vs Serbia, 2016Cracking hit following good work from Hal Robson-Kanu. Just such an almighty shame his second half shot hit the post.  Had that gone in, I’m convinced we’d have gone to Russia. Sigh.

21. Goal vs Ireland, 2018 –  A beautiful raking pass from Ben Davies.  The take on the chest, run and left foot hit…classic, definitive Bale.

20. Goal vs Bulgaria, 2011 – A wicked deflection but it came from an excellent run, as the revival under Gary Speed continued to gather pace.  

19. Tackle on Ronaldinho vs Brazil, 2006. The first time I saw Bale live.  He was at left back and Brazil had Ronaldinho – maybe the best player in the world at the time – on the right hand side of their attack.  The 17 year old showed very few signs of shyness though, crunching into the Brazilian superstar just a few minutes into the match.  He later, with Lewin Nyatanga and Ryan Giggs, toyed with Ronaldinho in a little in-match game of triangles.

18. Free kick vs Slovakia, 2006A terrible afternoon, brightened only by Bale becoming Wales’s youngest ever goalscorer – a record that’s still his.

17. Free kick vs England, 2016 – Ok, so Joe Hart should probably have done better. And again, a horrible game in a horrible kit which we deserved to lose.  But still, what a moment. Wales’s first goal versus England since 1984.

16. Cross leading to own goal vs Northern Ireland, 2016 – A tight, nervy arm-wrestle of a match.  Although an own goal, it was Bale’s excellence which lead to the breakthrough.  A quality ball which caused confusion and as good as put Wales into the quarter final.

15. Hat-trick goal vs China to break Rush’s record, 2018 – If you’re going to break your country’s goalscoring record, hitting a first international hat-trick in a 6-0 victory away from home isn’t a bad way in which to do it. 

14-13. Final goal and free kick vs Israel, 2015When both are on song, the link up play between Bale and Ramsey is really something to behold. His free kick technique ain’t bad either.

12. Goal vs Switzerland, 2011 – Excellent composure to seal our first win over the Swiss since the 1960s.  Like against Norway in the same year, a nice assist from Steve Morison for this one (remember him?).

11. Goal vs Iceland, 2014 In the words of Barry Horne ”Oh. My. Word.”. A few weeks later Bale reprised the goal in the final of the Copa del Rey for Real Madrid.

10. His celebrations after 2-1 victory over Cyprus, 2014 No goals from Bale in this game.  But he celebrated the victory as if he’d hit five, fists clenched, screaming into the night sky. As Barry Horne stated on Radio Wales a few days later, “that wasn’t for the cameras or for the sponsors… it was pure emotion.”

9. Pass to Ramsey vs Belgium, 2016 The greatest victory in Welsh football history featured no goals or assists from our GOAT; which is testament to how well the team functioned in France. Bale did play his part though.  The raking ball to Ramsey which the peroxide midfielder in turn crossed in to the box for Hal Robson-Kanu’s epic moment of immortal glory was an essential part of the greatest Welsh goal of all time.

8. Assist for Ramsey vs Montenegro, 2011 – Not a hugely famous goal but it felt – to me at least – hugely significant. Gary Speed was coming under increased pressure to get a result.  This victory was much needed and although Bale didn’t score he did provide this superb assist for the all important second goal (Montenegro pulled one back through Jovetic) and, as the commentator states, was ‘electric’ that night.

7. Goal vs Scotland, 2012Got to love a last minute winner in the pouring rain. Especially when Scotland are the opponents.

6. Free kick vs Slovakia, 2016 – Wales’s first tournament goal for 58 years.  The sense of release was incredible.

5. “The dragon on my shirt, that’s all I need” When asked at Euro 2016 ’Where do you get your motivation from?’ Bale’s answer made an entire nation swoon.

4. The retaken free kick vs Andorra, 2014 – A horrible game but one of the most important goals in the history of Welsh football.  Siri, what’s the definition of ‘get out of jail’?

3. Goal vs Cyprus, 2015Monumental.  The towering header that took Wales to the verge of qualification. And which also prompted the now iconic image of the celebrating, adoring bench.

2. Goal vs Belgium, 2015 – Yes, it was an awful misjudgement from Radja Nainggolan, but still, Bale had plenty of work to do. The composure was extraordinary really.  As were the celebrations and noise that followed. What a moment.

1. When he said he had a bad back ahead of the 2012 London Olympics.  Obviously. 

Penblwydd hapus Gareth.

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