Five Things to Know About Gareth Bale of Wales

Five Things to Know About Gareth Bale of Wales originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Gareth Bale was the man of the hour as Wales made a historic run to the 2022 World Cup. Don’t be surprised if he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve in Qatar.

The 33-year-old has been part of some of the biggest moments and deals in international soccer over the past decade and a half. He was rumored to be expected to retire after this season, but he decided to stick around after helping Wales qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Bale was responsible for all three of his team’s goals in the final two qualifying matchups.

On the club side, Bale has enjoyed success with Tottenham in the Premier League, Real Madrid in La Liga and most recently LAFC in the MLS. Among his many accolades are the five UEFA Champions League trophies he won with Real Madrid.

With his career potentially winding down, all eyes will be on the forward in Qatar.

Here’s everything you need to know about Gareth Bale before he takes the field at the 2022 World Cup.

Bale made his professional debut with Southampton in 2006

Bale grew up in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales located 45 miles west of neighboring Bristol, England.

His athletic prowess caught the attention of coaches and teachers from a young age. Bale was famously required only one touch and prohibited from using his dominant foot while at Whitchurch High School, a practice teacher Gwyn Morris claims was an effort to “challenge him” as he did other students. Bale was also classmates with Sam Warburton, former captain of the Wales rugby team, and several years behind Geraint Thomas, winner of the 2018 Tour de France.

Bale came up through the Southampton youth program. He made his professional and international debut in 2006 at the age of 16.

Bale is Wales’ top goalscorer of all time with 40 international goals

Bale’s 40 goals give him a healthy lead over Ian Rush in second place with 28 goals. But his place in the Welsh record books doesn’t stop there.

At 17 years and 83 days old, Bale became the youngest Welsh player to score during a 2006 matchup against Slovakia. He is also the second-most capped player with 106 appearances, trailing only current teammate Chris Gunter.

Bale historically comes at a hefty price for interested clubs

Bale’s time with Real Madrid cost the Spanish club a pretty penny. He originally transferred from Tottenham to Real Madrid for a then-record $132 million (85.6 million pounds). That transfer price tag has since been eclipsed nine times, with Neymar’s 2017 move from FC Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain nearly doubling it.

Three years later, Real signed Bale to a three-year extension for 150 million pounds, locking him in until 2022 and making him the highest paid player of the 2016 season.

Bale is one of the fastest soccer players in the world

In another life, Bale could probably trade his cleats for spikes to represent Wales on the track. The forward is considered to be one of the fastest players in the world. He recorded times of up to 25 mph in his 2013 debut with Real Madrid.

For perspective, Usain Bolt’s maximum speed during his 2009 world record 100m dash was 27.8 mph.

Bale’s signature heart celebration is a nod to his high school sweetheart and now wife

The Eleven of Hearts has been put to good use throughout Bale’s prolific career but what are the origins of the celebration?

The unique heart arrangement is a tribute to Emma Rhys-Jones, his long-time partner and mother of their four kids.

Rhys-Jones and Bale grew up a couple miles apart and started dating while attending Whitchurch High School in a northern suburb of Cardiff. Rhys-Jones gave birth to a daughter in 2012 and 2016. The couple had a son in 2018 and married the following year. They welcomed their second son and fourth child this past July.