A four-time Champions League winner and Wales’ greatest player of the modern era, Gareth Bale went from being an unlucky left-back to one of the world’s most exciting players.
A world-record fee, a nation expecting him to perform miracles and the most hard-to-please club fans in the world have not fazed the unflappable Cardiff boy who has enthralled football fans all over the world.
Whether it is scoring unforgettable goals, ripping apart one of the world’s best right-backs or making history as arguably British football’s greatest foreign export, Bale has delivered time and again, year on year.
Here, as part of Bale Day on BBC Sport, are 10 of what could have been a significantly longer list of his iconic moments – mostly good, some a little more contentious. You can rank them in order at the bottom of the page.
Debuts for club and country at 16
Southampton 2-0 Millwall, 17 April 2006
On 17 April 2006, at the age of 16 years and 275 days, Bale made his debut for Southampton in a 2-0 win over Millwall.
In May, at 16 years and 315 days, he started for Wales in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago.
Brian Flynn, who was in charge of discovering young Welsh talent, commented that Bale was potentially a future star of the game, comparing his technical ability to that of Ryan Giggs.
However, Southampton’s financial issues meant Bale was not long for St Mary’s and after turning down Manchester United, he completed a £5m move to Tottenham Hotspur in May 2007.
Ending his Tottenham jinx
Tottenham Hotspur 5-0 Burnley, 26 September, 2009
“Did Spurs win? No? Well Bale must have played then.”
And so went the joke for weeks, then months and even years as Bale’s start to life at White Hart Lane proved extremely tough. He was not on the winning side in his first 24 Premier League matches.
That statistic could have been so different – in just Bale’s second appearance he put Spurs 3-1 up at Fulham only for them to be denied victory in injury time – but it became a big thing, with Martin Jol and Juande Ramos losing their managerial roles as Spurs struggled.
Incredibly, from August 2007 to September 2009, Bale failed to win a Premier League game for Spurs until Harry Redknapp gave him five minutes as a sub in a match Spurs were wining 5-0. Bale never looked back.
‘Taxi for Maicon’
Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Inter Milan, 2 November, 2010
Once Bale and Spurs started finding success under Redknapp they pushed on and on, inspired by Bale and midfielder Luka Modric.
However, Bale’s breakthrough moment – some stunning free-kicks aside – came in the Champions League with unfancied Spurs drawn against European champions Inter Milan in the group stages.
Goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was sent off after eight minutes and Tottenham found themselves 4-0 down at the San Siro, before a stunning second-half hat-trick from Bale. He tore Maicon – arguably the best right-back in the world at the time – to shreds as he single-handedly restored some pride from the Premier League team.
The humiliation for the Brazilian was completed in the return match at White Hart Lane when Bale was arguably even better, producing two assists in a dazzling display.
“Gareth Bale produced a master class to torture Champions League holders Inter Milan,” wrote BBC Sport’s chief football writer.
Clean sweep of individual awards
Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Sunderland, 19 May, 2013
From a jinx to the finest player in the Premier League, Bale’s transformation was complete by the end of the 2012-13 season when he was voted the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) player of the season for the second time in his career.
That season he also scooped he PFA Young Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year awards – making him only the second player to win all three in the same season. Cristiano Ronaldo was the other.
Bale scored 31 goals for club and country as he helped Spurs compete for a Champions League spot until the final match of the season.
He scored a stunning late winner in the season finale, a 1-0 win over Sunderland at White Hart Lane, a fitting way to sign out of English football as his childhood dreams would soon became reality.
World’s most expensive player
Bale signs for Real Madrid, 1 September, 2013
Spurs’ failure to reach the Champions League and Bale’s brilliance the previous season meant it was time for the Welshman to leave White Hart Lane and despite the largest offer for his services coming from Manchester United, Bale dreamed only of a move to the Bernabeu.
That childhood dream of being a galactico became a reality when Spurs chairman Daniel Levy agreed to sell the player to Real Madrid for a then world-record fee of £85m.
Copa del Rey wonder goal
Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona, 16 April, 2014
What’s the best way to announce yourself to your new fans, to show the exactly what you can do and how devastatingly effective you can be? How about scoring a sensational solo goal, with five minutes remaining, to win a cup final against your biggest rivals?
Bale did it.
His stunning individual goal won the Copa del Rey for Real Madrid as they beat Barcelona 2-1 in Valencia.
The Wales forward outsprinted Barca defender Marc Bartra from the halfway line before coolly converting past keeper Jose Manuel Pinto to announce himself as someone who would not be upstaged, even by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
Repeat Champions League winner and final goalscorer
If you are going to have a love affair with a competition as a footballer, the Champions League seems like a pretty great choice and that’s certainly been the case for Bale.
He won the competition in his first season in Madrid in 2014, scoring in extra time as Real came back from 1-0 down to stun city rivals Atletico 4-1.
Bale’s goal put his side ahead and they went on to complete a record 10th win. He was far from done.
He scored in the penalty shootout as Madrid beat Atletico on penalties in 2016, before playing his part from the bench as he won the Champions League in his home city of Cardiff in 2017 against Juventus.
Lighting up Euro 2016
For a long time it seemed Bale was destined to be a George Best or Ryan Giggs, an icon of British football who would never get to experience an international tournament.
However, after a 58-year wait, Wales qualified for Euro 2016 thanks largely to Bale’s brilliance in qualifying.
Wales went from unfancied outsiders to one of the stories of the tournament, improbably reaching the semi-finals with Bale producing some electric displays along the way, including a goal against England in the group stage.
The Champions League’s greatest ever goal?
Real Madrid 3-1 Liverpool, 26 May, 2018
Bale had already enjoyed three Champions League successes, there is no question 2018 is the final for which he will be best remembered.
Three minutes after coming on as a substitute against Liverpool with the score locked at 1-1, Bale scored one of European football’s great goals, his magnificent overhead kick putting Real 2-1 up.
Bale then scored from 30 yards to secure Madrid’s 13th Champions League success.
Wales. Golf. Madrid
Wales 2-0 Hungary, 19 November, 2019
“I think Gareth Bale is a very particular kind of person… he comes across as a bit strange. The first thing he thinks about is Wales, then golf and after that, Real Madrid,” ex-Madrid player Predrag Mijatovic.
Despite his success at the club, Bale has never enjoyed a relationship with the Madrid fans like he did with the Tottenham or Wales faithful. He was especially criticised for being fit for Wales’ pivotal Euro 2020 qualifier with Hungary after missing seven weeks for Madrid through injury.
Wales fans have turned the mantra ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid’ into a chant, with Bale himself admitting he found the song amusing and, after securing qualification with a win over Hungary, Bale was front and centre as the squad paraded a banner echoing that sentiment.