Gareth Bale’s MLS move to Los Angeles makes sense with Tottenham decision explained

The last time Gareth Bale featured prominently in the USA came in his final summer at Tottenham Hotspur with a huge billboard in New York’s Times Square.

In July 2013, Bale’s image was splashed across the massive 40ft billboard, announcing NBC’s coverage of the new Premier League season. The fact that the Welshman moved to Real Madrid weeks later did not take away from the fact that the Spurs shirt and the winger were very prominently on display in the centre of the Big Apple.

So there’s a certain bookend to the fact that nine years later, Bale is set to return to the USA in person with a move that will likely bring the end of his career at MLS side Los Angeles FC. The Welshman is expected to sign a year-long deal with an option to extend it if he wants to prolong his time in the city. It’s a good move for Bale, a great move for the MLS and a perfect move for Wales ahead of the World Cup.

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LAFC were only founded seven years ago and can boast part owners and investors, including Hollywood star Will Ferrell and basketball legend Magic Johnson. Their £285m Banc of California Stadium opened just four years ago, and hosts games with a background of Los Angeles skyscrapers.

It is a glamour move for Bale to bring a Hollywood ending to a career that has taken a Cardiff-born lad to Southampton, Tottenham, Madrid and now LA with five Champions League trophies, four FIFA World Club Cup titles, three La Liga titles and a plethora of domestic cups to his name.

Bale is understood to be a business contact of LA Lakers’ basketball icon LeBron James, and in LA, he will be able to walk around the city with a little bit more anonymity than in Europe. The MLS is a growing, quickly improving league, and many will recognise him but not to the degree they would go on the streets of Madrid, London or Cardiff, as American football, baseball and basketball still dominate much of the consciousness in the USA.

For Bale, it will be a good tune up in a competitive league ahead of his World Cup dream in Qatar, for Wales first appearance in the tournament since 1958.

Some Spurs fans wanted him back at their club for a third spell, but realistically it was never really an option. While Tottenham’s managing director of football Fabio Paratici is a big fan of Bale, there was a feeling both within the Welshman’s camp and inside Spurs that a second return was unlikely.

Bale left Tottenham for Madrid in 2013 but returned for the 2020/21 season on loan and contributed 16 goals and three assists in 34 appearances back in a Spurs shirt, despite having a couple of injuries and limited Premier League starts in the first half of the season under then head coach Jose Mourinho.

Then the Wales international played just 290 minutes of football last season for Real Madrid. He started the Spanish club’s first three games in La Liga in August, playing roughly an hour in each, but then knee, calf and back injuries, combined with a bout of Covid, ensured he did not play another match until mid-February and then his only other league minutes – 16 of them – came from the bench against Getafe in April before more back problems saw off the remainder of his league season.

There is a belief within Spurs that his injury issues and the physical demands Antonio Conte puts on his players would have been too much at this stage of Bale’s career, with the Italian demanding constant pressing from his attacking players, and his training sessions are among the most gruelling in the game. Bale will turn 33 next month, and while Spurs did sign a 33-year-old in Ivan Perisic this summer, the Croatian has steered clear of injuries on the whole in his career, missing just 40 matches through injury across his entire 14-year career, an average of 2.8 games missed a season.

A Bale return to Tottenham would have been a hit emotionally, nostalgically and from a marketing point of view for Tottenham, and he did contribute some important goals on his last return, but he and the club staff had to manage his training and pitch time carefully during that loan spell, and under Conte, the physical demands would have been too much.

Many close to him believed he might turn out for his hometown team Cardiff in the Championship for his final season as he prepares his body for that winter World Cup in Qatar. Instead, the sunny climes of LA came calling, and Bale will join another trophy-laden legend of the game in 37-year-old former Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini, who will also arrive at the MLS club after his contract in Turin ends and when the US transfer window opens on July 7.

The MLS season is in full swing, having begun in February, and if Bale were able to start playing immediately, his first game for his new club would be the LA derby, as LAFC welcomes LA Galaxy on July 9. That derby is labelled El Trafico in the city, a somewhat apt debut for a player in Bale who often shone in its inspiration, El Clasico, the matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

LA FC currently sit on top of the Western Conference in the MLS, and the overall table, with a squad that includes former Arsenal striker Carlos Vela. That league format lasts until October 9, when it then switches to a knockout one as 14 teams take part in the MLS Cup play-offs to decide who plays in the MLS Cup championship game on November 5, just over two weeks before the start of the World Cup.

Providing he can manage his body and steer clear of injuries, Bale’s latest adventure should prove to be a perfect World Cup warm-up after a season with so little football in Madrid. That his contract will not end until next June – midway through the next MLS season – means the winger could decide to extend it until the end of the following campaign or longer.

It’s not the fairy-tale finale at his hometown club, but it is a Hollywood ending to a glittering career, and Gareth Bale will be hoping that he signs off in style for his country and his final club.

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