Wales manager Rob Page has joked that he would personally build a statue of Gareth Bale if the outgoing Real Madrid superstar sends his side off to the World Cup in Qatar, and said the skipper’s contribution to his country went far beyond his exploits on the pitch.
Bale has played just 20 minutes of football since scoring a brace against Austria in the World Cup play-off semi-finals but will likely remain a key part of his side’s attempts to reach their first final since 1958.
Wales will face Scotland or Ukraine at the Cardiff City Stadium on June 5 for a place in the tournament later this year.
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Bale’s preparations for this latest camp are taking place amid fervent speculation over his future. The 32-year-old is set to lift the curtain on his stay at Real Madrid, following the end of his current contract, and speculation over his next move continues to grow.
He could yet have the chance for a final hurrah for Real, with boss Carlo Ancelotti confirming that Bale will be fit for the upcoming Champions League final with Liverpool in Paris.
But Bale’s relationship with Los Blancos has clearly already crumbled over the past few months. Indeed, a Spanish publication branded the former Tottenham star a ‘parasite’ on the eve of this clash with the Austrians.
It was the latest example of what Page felt was a series of unfair criticism aimed at his captain, who he believes deserves more respect for his achievements in Spain.
“If Gareth is asked to play, he will play and do his best like he does for us,” he said. “The criticism he received is unfair. What he had to go through was unfair.
“He must have shown enormous strength of character and mental toughness.
“Think of what he had to go through in the build-up to the game against Austria and he was still able to put the ball down and concentrate and you couldn’t place it with your hand any closer to the top corner. And he did it from so far away with his foot.
“To do that, he shows he has mental toughness and he had to have it.
“A lot of players could have been left behind and I don’t think it’s fair that people have the chance to criticize him when he has given so much to a football club as he has.
Bale’s outburst against the Austrians was indeed a timely reminder of his enduring importance to his country, and Page joked that surely it would be time to start discussing a possible statue should he manage to lead the charge. Wales to a World Cup.
“I would build one myself if it scores a winner. I would build it myself,” he said.
“He’s a legend. He’s a Welsh icon, absolutely. And not just what he’s done on the pitch. A lot of people don’t know what he does off the pitch when it comes to the works charities.”
Bale’s charity work, Page says, has been just as valuable a contribution to Wales as the fierce passion and determination he shows in donning the famous red jersey.
“We had to do a photo recently for a car company, one of the sponsors where we were handing over a car, and they wanted Gareth in the photo,” he said.
“I asked why and it was because he had donated a large sum of money to the hospital. A lot of people don’t see that. He’s not the kind of character to shout that on the rooftops I will do it He won’t and we won’t hear of the good he does.
“It’s not just what he’s done on the pitch, it’s who he is. He’s a role model for the younger guys and things like that show he has class.”