A fifth Champions League final pocketed, Gareth Bale teams up with Wales in the next 24 hours for an even more important date with destiny as he seeks to fire his country to the World Cup.
Bale may get some game-time against Poland on Wednesday night as Wales kick off their new Nations League campaign, but Welsh boss Rob Page will be wrapping his captain in cotton wool for next Sunday’s huge World Cup play-off with either Scotland or Ukraine.
The Wales skipper’s focus is obviously on that game, but he will also be thinking about his future with a nine-year spell at Real Madrid officially over. What are his options from him? Here are some of them…
READ MORE: Gareth Bale signs off Real Madrid career with apt Instagram post
hang up his boots
This is the one scenario no-one in Wales wants to see happen. For some time behind the scenes it has been mooted it’s either Cardiff City or retire for Bale, pending Wales’ World Cup dream.
His body has taken a battering. Remember, Bale burst through with Southampton and Wales at the age of 16 and he’s been kicked from pillar to post during the intervening 16 years. That’s a fair time at the top, he’ll be 33 in a shade over six weeks’ time.
As such, he may choose to simply hang up his boots if Wales lose their play-off final. But, of course, we don’t want that to be happening.
Bale has plenty of football left in him. His remaining ambition is to play in a World Cup and, hopefully after he’s led Wales to Qatar, he will need the right club to keep his fitness tip-top for November.
Who will that be?
This one simply isn’t going away. It just seems bizarre to drop from Champions League winner, albeit he only played seven minutes in the tournament for Real Madrid and was an unused substitute against Liverpool, into the Championship.
But his hometown Bluebirds appeal to Bale, in more ways than one. Personal and football-wise.
With a luxurious house on the outskirts of the Welsh capital, this is Bale’s chance to come home. His agent Jonathan Barnett has already stated Bale’s next move would be for personal reasons, where he wants to play, rather than financial.
But Cardiff also appeals from a footballing perspective. Bale could be driven by the ambition of trying to take the club he supports back up into the Premier League.
He could also pick and choose his matches more with the Bluebirds to ensure he is in perfect condition come the World Cup. Cardiff fans, who are also Wales supporters, would be more accepting and understanding of this than Bale would find elsewhere.
Were Bale to join a Premier League club on £200,000 a week, the demands for him to play far more often would obviously be significantly greater and that he could put his World Cup dream in jeopardy.
Cardiff are as short as 1-5 ON to be Bale’s next destination. It seems unlikely on the surface, but even Wales boss Rob Page admits the Bluebirds ‘tick a lot of boxes’ for Bale.
In one way it makes no sense given Bale is still an elite player as he recently proved with Wales. In others, it makes far greater sense than any other option.
Bale had a brilliant first spell with Spurs, propelling himself into a top-level footballer during a six-year stint in North London between 2007 and 2013.
Having also re-joined on loan, he netted 71 goals for Tottenham across two spells with the club, many of them individual wonder efforts.
Will Antonio Conte swoop for him?
They have money to spend, lots of it, and Bale could be something of a marquee signing.
The Toon Army would love a player of his talent, but Bale would be expected to play week in, week out. Would that suit someone who knows he needs to rest his body with the World Cup approaching?
Another of Bale’s former clubs, he would be afforded a great welcome and it would be Premier League football.
Southampton are bound to be interested, whether Bale would wish to go back there is open to question.
Celtic or Rangers
A number of Wales stars have played for the Glasgow giants, Aaron Ramsey more recently at Rangers. Craig Bellamy and John Hartson shone with Celtic.
Huge crowds, enormous expectation, but a lower standard of football. Bale may feel he can ease his body through the Scottish Premier League, while there would also be European football.
He’d certainly be loved up there. But it’s still not home, it’s it
The American dream would enable Bale to cash in, with DC United willing to pay more than they did to land Wayne Rooney previously.
It would be an economic and sporting package which could appeal to Bale, but he may wish to remain in Europe closer to his Wales team-mates with such a big year ahead.
The Italian giants have also been linked with Bale and often choose older players up front, Olivier Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic recent examples.
Serie A would be a new experience for Bale. Could this be a different twist, or is he coming home?