Gareth Bale has completed his move to Real Madrid - capping a remarkable rise through the game. Here, we look back, season-by-season, on his career...
The youngster became Southampton’s second youngest player (behind Theo Walcott) when he started the 2-0 Championship home win against Millwall in April. He would make one other appearance that season, another 2-0 home win, against Leicester a fortnight later. Made his debut for Wales in May 2006, as a substitute against Trinidad and Tobago – becoming Wales’ youngest ever player. He would set up the winning goal for Robbie Earnshaw.
Opened his account in his third game for the club with what would become a trademark free-kick at Derby in a 2-2 draw in August. He scored four more times that season as he made 43 appearances at left-back for George Burley’s side as they went on to lose to Derby in the play-off semi-finals. This season also saw him score his first goal at international level, netting a free-kick for Wales against Slovakia. His form caught the eye of a number of Premier League clubs, most noticeably Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. He opted to move to White Hart Lane at the end of May, signing for an initial £5m fee, rising to £10m – although the fee was narrowed to £7m to enable immediate payment to a financially-stricken Saints.
Made his Spurs – and Premier League – bow at Old Trafford, playing on the left wing as Spurs went down to a controversial 1-0 defeat against Man United. His first goal arrived six days later, surging down the left wing to score Spurs’ third in a 3-3 draw at Fulham. He found the net three times in his first five games for his new side, including a free-kick opener against Arsenal, but was used sparingly following Martin Jol’s sacking. His season came to a premature end after suffering ligament damage in a 3-2 home defeat against Birmingham in early December.
Returned in pre-season, signing a new four-year deal, and appeared regularly as Spurs struggled for form, reaching the end of October with two points from eight games. Replete with a hairpin in his hair, Bale was sent-off for the first time in his career, along with Michael Dawson, as Spurs went down 2-1 at Stoke. Bale continued to feature regularly under new manager Harry Redknapp, but failed to find the net for club or country. Made just three appearances after the League Cup final defeat to Manchester United in March, as Redknapp preferred Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Was still yet to taste victory for Spurs in the league, despite featuring in 10 Cup wins.
Missed the opening month of the season after knee surgery, returning in his 11th Cup victory, a 5-1 win at Preston. Finally tasted victory in the league – at a record 25th attempt – when Redknapp brought him on as a sub with Spurs four up at home to Burnley. Still seen as back-up to Assou-Ekotto until an injury to the Cameroonian in January. He impressed in a 4-0 FA Cup win over Peterborough and enjoyed a storming end to the campaign as Spurs finished fourth to reach the Champions League play-offs. Bale also rediscovered his scoring boots in the final month of the campaign, overcoming FA Cup semi-final heartbreak against Portsmouth to score in wins over Arsenal and Chelsea in the following week, as well at Burnley on the final day. Signed another four-year deal.
Two goals, one a fortunate ricochet and the other a stupendous head-height volley, saw Bale open his campaign in fine style with a 2-1 win at Stoke on the second weekend. Four days later Bale assisted all four goals as Spurs beat Young Boys 4-0 to reach the Champions League group stage. Assou-Ekotto’s return moved Bale forward to left-wing again, where Bale really found his form. The final goal in the 4-1 Champions League win over FC Twente preceded a remarkable hat-trick at the San Siro – the first two coming from solo runs and all from his left foot – as Spurs ‘salvaged’ a 4-3 loss against Inter having trailed by four at half-time. He again terrorised Inter in the home return, setting up strikes for Roman Pavlyuchenko and Peter Crouch and terrorising right-back Maicon in a 3-1 win on 2 November. A fine month continued with two goals against Blackburn in a 4-2 win and the first against Arsenal as Spurs won at their neighbours for the first time in 17 years.
Extended his stay in March, signing until 2015. Named PFA player of the Year as Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid began to register their interest.
Began to find the net regularly as Redknapp’s side flirted with a title challenge, taking 31 points from 33 in the autumn and moving to within five points of the summit in mid-January after a poor start. Adopted a more central role behind the striker, starring in the position against Norwich shortly after Christmas as he scored twice in a 2-0 win. Despite Spurs not being in the Champions League, Bale was still voted into Uefa’s team of the year for 2011, and was named Premier League player of the Month in January. Booked for diving in goalless draw at Liverpool as a negative reputation began to take hold. Ended the season with 15 goals, albeit in vain as Spurs slumped in the spring. Again extended his contract, until 2016.
Pulled out of the Olympics through injury, although appeared in a friendly for Spurs days later. A fortunate strike at Reading came a fortnight before a solo run and finish at Manchester United helped secure Spurs’ first win at Old Trafford for 23 years, under new manager Andre Villas-Boas. Stunning long-range finish for Wales helped side to a 2-1 win over Scotland in World Cup qualifier and found the net for both sides in 2-1 win over Liverpool in late November. Boxing Day saw his first Premier League hat-trick, as Spurs beat Aston Villa 4-0, and the now-winger scored six Spurs goal in succession from late January, including three free-kicks and two fine solo efforts, as the North London side put together another Champions League push. Late winner at West Ham and effort against Arsenal six days later helped Spurs go seven points clear in the race for the top four – capping a run of 11 goals in nine games for club and country. Won BBC’s goal of the month for both January and February. Lofted effort against Swansea came days before he went over on his foot in Europa League quarter-final against Basle. Returned just a fortnight later, scoring against Manchester City, Wigan, Southampton and Sunderland – the final two remarkably similar dribbles and finishes after coming in from the left wing, although Spurs again missed out on the Champions League. Again voted PFA player of the year, for the second time in three seasons.
Spoke privately of wish to join Real Madrid following concerted interest from the Spanish side. Featured in just one pre-season friendly for Spurs before being ruled out with buttock and foot ‘injuries’, as AVB and Spurs battled desperately to convince him to stay. As the transfer window progressed, Spurs signed a number of high-cost players, breaking their transfer record three times, paying out a total in excess of £100m. Bale finally completed move for world record fee of £85m.