Gareth Bale insisted Major League Soccer is “not a retirement league”, and he hopes his move to Los Angeles FC will allow him to stay in contention for Wales at least until Euro 2024.
While his initial deal with LAFC is only a one-year agreement, it could be extended through to 2024, when Wales will be hoping to compete in the European Championship.
Bale left Real Madrid at the end of June after his contract was allowed to expire, with the forward – who was once the most expensive player of all time – enduring a difficult final few years at the Santiago Bernabeu.
His attitude and commitment to Madrid were often called into question by supporters, who routinely voiced their frustration towards him in recent years.
But Bale has continued to be worshipped by Wales supporters, and he more than played his part in helping them secure qualification to the World Cup for the first time since 1958 earlier this year.
Keeping himself fit ahead of Qatar 2022 is undoubtedly a key reason for the move to MLS, although Bale was eager to stress how he sees the potential for a long-term future in the United States.
While MLS has garnered a reputation for being a league where high-profile European players go to retire, Bale is adamant that is no longer the case.
“Like I said, this is a league that’s really grown, that’s come a long way in the last 10 years,” he told reporters at his official presentation on Monday.
We can get used to this. @11carlosV x @GarethBale11 pic.twitter.com/MFSKD22HOl
— LAFC (@LAFC) July 11, 2022
“Everyone’s striving to improve the league, the players who come over see that as well. I don’t think anyone sees it now as a retirement league, it’s really a league that’s physical, demanding; the weather changes are difficult, the travel is difficult.
“But it’s exciting, and to play football in front of fans like these is what you play football for.”
Bale’s new club were only founded in 2014, debuting in MLS in 2018, but have since gone on to make a real impression on the sport in North America, even reaching the final of the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League.
Many were surprised by Bale’s decision to head for the States given he reportedly had offers from English clubs and boyhood team Cardiff City, but he is convinced the European perception of MLS is outdated.
“I’ve watched MLS for a long time,” he said. “Obviously the time difference makes it difficult, but whenever I could watch I’d try to catch it on the TV.
“The standard is really increasing, it’s a lot better than people in Europe really think.
“The quality is improving, the league is improving, the stadiums are improving, the teams are improving.
“It’s a league really on the rise. Yes, it’s a new club, but it feels like it’s been here forever. The job Larry [Freedman] and John [Thorrington, co-presidents] and rest of the team here have done to create such an amazing fanbase so quickly is remarkable.
“It’s testament to how well the club is run, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
“To have my first training session today was amazing, the first step in hopefully a long journey.”