He was just a small boy from Cardiff. He has now become a Welsh legend.
Three goals in three games for Gareth Bale has guided the Welsh into the most unexpected of circumstances. “Surely England should have won the group,” was the cry of many. But they didn’t. Instead the passionate Welsh did.
From “that magical night” at the San Siro, to being presented at the Santiago Bernaubeu. From the Champions League final triumph of 2014, to the best Saturday night of his life in Zenica.
Bale’s footballing career has had some high moments. But to guide the Welsh’s golden generation to the Round of 16 of a major tournament will surely rival against any other triumph.
Shoot takes a look at the Welsh star as the country of only three million people prepare for the knockout stages of EURO 2016.
Where did it all start for Bale?
Born into a footballing family, Bale was born in Cardiff in July 1989, growing up in the town of Whitchurch just north of the City Centre.
While his sporting ability in general (at the age of 14 he could run 100m in 11.4 seconds) was exceptional, football was always Bale’s main passion.
He would play constantly, and while still at primary school, Bale was poached by Southampton scout Rod Ruddick during a 6-a-side tournament in Newport on a Bank Holiday to remember for both Bale and his family.
After signing later on in 1998, Bale trained at the Saints satellite camp in Bath. Whilst at secondary school, where he was friends with the former British and Ireland Lions captain Sam Warburton, he grew as a footballer; however, when it came to the age of 16, there were questions about his height and whether he would be able to cope.
Thankfully for football, those questions were extinguished as he left school in the summer of 2005 and joined the pristine Southampton academy.
What happened next?
When you think of the prestigious Southampton academy; you think of the likes of Theo Walcott, Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and many others. However surely the rise of Bale matches any other.
At the age of 17, he became the club’s youngest player when he appeared in a 2-0 victory over Millwall. The following season, Bale established his place in the Saints starting XI; his highlight of the season though came on the opening weekend when he rifled home a free kick from 25 yards to score his first-ever professional goal in a fixture against an eventual promoted Derby County side at Pride Park in front of the television cameras.
After an impressive season, in which he was crowned March’s Football League Young Player of the Year, Bale was hot property. A trip to North London beckoned.
How did he perform at Tottenham?
After signing for Spurs in May 2007 for a reported initial £5m fee, Bale’s impact was rather understated originally.
After making his Premier League debut against his idol Ryan Giggs and a Manchester United side who only eight months previously put a bid in for his services, Bale was injured in a fixture against Birmingham City in December.
After missing out on Spurs’ unlikely League Cup accomplishment over Chelsea, Bale was referred to as a curse within the North London club with them being unable to register a victory in his first 24 games at the club.
After being frustrated about not leading the line at left-back for Spurs following consistent performances by Benoit Assou-Ekotto, maybe it was right for Bale not to feature and there were even suggestions about him being linked with the likes of Birmingham and Nottingham Forest.
But, by the start of the 2009-10 season, he came back a different player as Harry Redknapps’ men surged towards the Champions League.
And then the night that changed his life. Wednesday October 20, 2010, will be a day that Bale will never forget as long as he lives. At half-time, the scored was 3-0 to Inter Milan. And, despite the score ending 4-3 in the end in Inter’s favour, Bale scored a hat-trick to announce himself on the world stage. It was simply unbelievable.
There was no turning back now. He was assured of a place in the Spurs XI as he blitzed the Premier League, scoring his first hat-trick in the league on Boxing Day in a 4-0 demolition over Aston Villa.
But, while that dark October night was the best day of his footballing career, surely his best year of his career was the year of 2013.
A Monday night under the lights at Upton Park was the destination for arguably one of his finest strikes of a football as his shot from 30 yards flew past Jussi Jaaskelainen.
So no big surprise that he was awarded the PFA Player of the year award for the 2012-13 season. But then came a bid that changed his career forever. The team who wanted his services were debatably the biggest team in the world, Real Madrid.
How did he get to this point?
The first day of September 2013, and while Tottenham’s North London rivals finally did some business, Spurs were saying goodbye to one of their finest ever players.
“Hala Madrid” were the words Bale exclaimed into the microphone as he secured the move to the Spanish capital and became the world’s most expensive player for a fee around the region of £86m.
His first season was one to remember as he guided the Blanco’s to “La Decima”, scoring the winning goal in the 2014 Champions League Final against neighbours Atletico Madrid.
However, since things have not gone to plan as much as he would like in a white shirt. After constant speculation over his future and a potential return to England, the Madrid fans began to fall out with the Welsh international and so did, reportedly, Cristiano Ronaldo.
That was until the climax of the season when Bale’s 11 goals in 2016, including a hat-trick against Deportivo, guided Real Madrid to a respectable second place.
What about his career for the Red Dragon?
He didn’t just make history in becoming the Saints’ youngest ever player; as he also became the youngest ever player to feature in the red shirt of the Welsh in May 2006 after making his debut in a fixture over Trinidad and Tobago as Leo Beenhakker’s men prepared to face the English at the 2006 World Cup.
Since he has become a regular, featuring for the Welsh throughout the European Championships qualification campaign as Chris Coleman guided the Dragons to their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup and their first-ever European Championships.