Before Gareth Bale joined Real Madrid, the Spanish giants hadn’t won a Champions League title in over a decade and Wales hadn’t qualified for a major tournament for over half a century.
Skip forward to 5 June 2022.
The Welsh player scores the only goal in a play-off match against Ukraine to send the nation to the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
This is the third major tournament Bale will be involved in, having featured in Wales’s stunning Euro 2016 run to the semi-finals and 2021’s tournament.
His vital goal on Sunday comes just over a week after he wins his fifth Champions League medal for the Spanish giants since 2013.
Yet, fans and journalists alike still ponder this question: has Bale’s time at Madrid been good or bad?
Gareth Bale leaves Real Madrid with five Champions League titles, three La Liga championships and a Copa del Rey.
He also adds three UEFA Super Cup and one Spanish Super Cup to the list of honours.
While the Welsh star is by no means the only reason for these successes – the likes of Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić and Sergio Ramos – he has formed a significant part of one of the most trophy-laden eras for the Spanish giants.
Despite being plagued by injuries and fitness concerns throughout his time with Madrid, Bale still has an impressive goal and assist record.
According to Opta, the winger and playmaker participated in 258 games, scoring 106 goals and providing 57 assists in all competitions.
By way of comparison, this puts the Welshman in 17th place in the club’s all-time goalscoring records.
He is ahead of strikers such as the Brazilian Ronaldo, Fernando Morientes and Iván Zamorano.
Bale is only three goals away from the legendary Juanito.
Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuaín only netted 15 more than the Welshman, playing six matches more.
Bale’s goalscoring record for the club, therefore, speaks for itself.
Not only did Bale score many goals but he scored many important ones.
The header in extra time against Atlético Madrid in the 2014 Champions League final and the double against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final are just two occasions in which he contributed to match-defining goals.
His solo effort against arch-rivals Barcelona to win the Copa del Rey in 2014 will go down in Madrid folklore.
Bale’s goalscoring record, therefore, does not just present itself as an impressive list of numbers but demonstrates the impact the Welshman had on extremely important encounters.
Mixed reception: Did he help himself?
The mixed reception for Bale has been a talking point, both over the last few years and recently as he officially announced his departure from the club.
Fans and pundits in the UK claim that the Spanish press and the Real Madrid faithful have treated him disgracefully.
And while they have good reason to argue their cases, it is not as simple as that.
There are several things that Bale did to annoy the Madrid fanbase.
The Wales Golf Madrid shirt was in bad taste.
During the Covid-enforced lockdowns, Bale came off the bench for half an hour in a match against Eibar, and he was just walking on the pitch.
It didn’t seem that he cared.
This was around the time he was pictured wearing a mask over his eyes or watching golf on his phone rather than his team-mates.
He was nowhere to be seen during the celebrations when Real Madrid won La Liga this year.
While none of this makes him deserve the treatment he has received from some quarters, it is hard to argue that Bale is completely innocent.
Gareth Bale has contributed to many historic matches and nights that Real Madrid fans will never forget.
He was part of an era that has won five Champions League titles and three La Liga championships.
Bale scored over 100 goals for Real Madrid.
All of this speaks for itself, yet it is hard to ascertain how successful his Real Madrid career has been.
He has not helped himself with some incidents.
You would have to argue that his career at the Spanish giants was a success, but it has been marred by controversy and injuries.
It could have delivered even more.