As the transfer saga of the summer reaches what many considered to be an inevitable climax, family-man Gareth Bale must focus on adapting to a different country, language and culture, all with the pressure of a reported record-breaking €100m transfer fee.
The switch from Tottenham Hotspur FC to Real Madrid CF has been protracted, but Bale, still only 24, has shown more than enough times in the past that he has the mental strength to handle such pressure and expectancy with ease.
From humble beginnings as a raw football-loving kid in the parks of Cardiff, Bale emerged as a precocious young talent at the renowned academy of Southampton FC, while his arrival on the professional football scene came at the right time for both club and country.
John Toshack handed Bale his first senior cap at the age of 16 years and 315 days, his substitute appearance in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago in May 2006 making him the youngest ever Wales player. That came a month after he had broken the equivalent Southampton record. The timing was right in that Toshack was building a squad for the future, and the fact that Bale joins Madrid as an established international with 41 caps is testament to the faith shown in him from a delicate young age.
Bale's performances for club and country attracted inevitable interest and a big-money move to Tottenham followed in May 2007, but first injuries and then more general problems at Spurs meant Bale struggled until the appointment of Harry Redknapp in 2009. Redknapp set the wheels in motion for what would be an incredible upturn in form as he pushed the Welshman into a wide attacking position with the security of defensive cover behind him.
The rest is history, but the book of Bale has a number of chapters left. More recently deployed in a free role behind a main striker, Bale has continued the goal-scoring feats that made his name on the UEFA Champions League stage when he scored his first career hat-trick away at then holders FC Internazionale Milano in October 2010.
Bale has enjoyed nothing but success since, his career following the same trajectory as his progression from defender to forward. He has accepted the awards and plaudits bestowed on him both modestly and graciously.
"When a club the size of Real Madrid come in for you, it's very hard to turn it down," former Welsh international Iwan Roberts told UEFA.com. "Top players want to play in the Champions League. Gareth is a top player and he deserves that stage. I don't think the price tag will affect him. He has handled different types of pressure throughout his career, and he won't worry about comparisons with players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. I am sure he will just concentrate on his football, as he has always done."
With speed, power, stamina, stature and ability, Bale could be the perfect athlete. But his real strength, the strength that keeps all this together, is his attitude and level-headed approach. Bale has withstood criticism in the past, and there will be an intense scrutiny of his performances at Madrid.
However, Roberts can only speak positively about the future for Bale and the national side. "Gareth will only improve as a player from this move," he added. "Carlo Ancelotti is one of the best coaches in the world and Gareth will now be playing with the best players in the world. As long as he keeps progressing and developing, this move can only be a good thing for both Gareth and Wales."
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