World Cup - Football: LA move provides Wales with Bale boost
The news that Gareth Bale has agreed to join Los Angeles FC has sparked debate, but on reflection, it looks like a good move, especially for Wales.
Bale's successful nine-year spell at Real Madrid is set to come to an end this summer and on Saturday, it was announced that the MLS would be his next destination.
The latter part of his time in Madrid was littered with reported fallouts with the club’s hierarchy, but there is no escaping his record that includes five Champions League winners' medals, three La Liga titles and more than 100 goals.
A return to English football was mooted but LAFC, who currently sit top of the Western Conference ahead of Sunday's match with New York Red Bulls and are 3.75 to win the MLS Cup 2022, won the race for his signature upon the expiration of his Real contract.
Coach Steve Cherundolo has been able to use the California sunshine to assemble a squad that also includes Carlos Vela and another new signing, Giorgio Chiellini. Bale himself has previously hinted that he has enjoyed spending time in the area and has regularly holidayed on the west coast.
For different reasons, neither Vela nor Chiellini will be heading to the World Cup in Qatar. However, six months in the City of Angels might be what Bale needs to be ready for November.
Bale boost for high-flying LAFC
The 32-year-old's injury record was a puzzle in the final seasons of his spell at Real Madrid. Often reported to be unfit, the forward would always seem to be raring to go when it came to representing his country.
We may never know the rights and wrongs of the situation, but we are aware that he has extra motivation to find his form after Wales sealed qualification for their first World Cup since 1958.
LAFC's standing in the Western Conference is some improvement on last year's ninth-place finish and puts them on course to emulate their 2019 exploits when they went on to be the Best in the West, before being knocked out in the Conference Finals by eventual champions Seattle.
The chance to win silverware will only motivate Bale and ensure he pushes both himself and his teammates hard as he looks to peak in time for Qatar.
With Vela, 1001.00 to be the MLS Cup's top scorer, already having 12 for the season and Chiellini's extra defensive steel, things look good for LAFC.
Their fans will have to be patient to see Bale in action, but he is sure to hit the ground running, with the LA Derby against the Galaxy on 7th July pencilled in for his first appearance.
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World Cup the final frontier for Bale
Wales' frustrations in failing to qualify for the global showpiece have previously robbed one of the world's greatest players of the opportunity to shine on the biggest stage of all.
However, all being well, we'll finally get to see Bale at the tournament this year and while his best days are arguably gone, he still has so much to give.
The Cardiff-born star scored two crucial goals in Wales' qualifying semi-final win over Austria, while his free-kick led to the decisive strike in the final win over Ukraine. This all happened despite him playing just 20 minutes of club football between the games in March and June.
Robert Page's tactics are likely to be built around Bale and he has shown in helping his country to the semi-finals at Euro 2016 and the knockouts again last summer that he can handle the type of responsibility never afforded to him at Madrid.
Wales are 7.00 to win a Group B that also includes neighbours England, Iran, and the country he is set to reside in, the USA.
Page's men then take on Iran at the same venue on 25th November before rounding off their pool campaign against England four days later. Bale opened the scoring against the Three Lions at Euro 2016 and is sure to have found his stride by the time the pair meet in Al Rayyan.
But what happens after Qatar?
There was speculation that Bale could retire from football had Wales not qualified for the World Cup but he has now chosen to prolong his career.
However, while he has signed a one-year deal, with the option of an extension, there is every chance that his club career may be over by 5th November.
That's the date of the MLS Cup final and it feels a bit unlikely that he will take up the option of extending his deal.
A mooted move to the Championship with hometown club Cardiff was an option prior to news of his MLS switch, but would he have been able to play twice a week?
That would have also been the case with many other European sides, with the gentler schedule of the MLS likely to aid his recovery and arguably allow him to pick and choose the matches he plays.
Bale has been, predominantly by the Spanish press, accused of being distracted by things away from the field, with golf clearly his favourite hobby and it is easy to see why when he plays off single figures.
California is a state with some outstanding options for those who enjoy 18 holes, with Riviera CC, which hosts the PGA Tour's Genesis Invitational, Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines among the highlights.
Bale has never hidden his fondness for the USA and with him due to turn 33 next month, he may feel he has achieved enough in the game to be comfortable with walking away.
A winter World Cup means Euro 2024 will only be 18 months away so could he be tempted into playing on? We've seen that the 106-cap forward likes to bide his time before making career decisions. With his record, he has every right to do so.