Hernández: Gareth Bale looks to rewrite his story with LAFC

At his introductory news conference Monday, Gareth Bale explained how playing for LAFC could position him to represent Wales again at Euro 2024.

Maybe even the World Cup in 2026.

“I’ve come here to try to be here as long as possible,” he said.

Later, in a private suite at Banc of California Stadium, Bale shared the much simpler ambition that inspired his move from the European Champions League to Major League Soccer.

Bale just wanted the game to be fun again.

He said of LAFC, “It was an exciting project, something I really wanted to be involved in, something I felt I needed in my career, not to motivate me, but something that I would look forward to again and be an environment [in which] I really enjoyed myself again rather than feeling like there was a lot of negativity around.”

The not-so-veiled reference was to his time with Real Madrid of Spain, a 10-year period in which he lost control of his career and image.

He went from being the single-most expensive player in history to an unpopular reserve likened to a parasite.

“Things maybe happened at Real Madrid like they did,” Bale said, “but I was always trying to just go there to play football and to be a kid trying to enjoy myself.”

A week from his 33rd birthday, his search for the child within him brought him here.

This isn’t the Champions League and Bale didn’t pretend that it was. He chuckled as he recalled his previous life.

“It’s a lot different, I think, when everyone is really focused on one sport,” he said.

Gareth Bale, center, poses for photos with LAFC lead managing owner Larry Berg, left, and general manager John Thorrington.

Gareth Bale, center, poses for photos with LAFC lead managing owner Larry Berg, left, and general manager John Thorrington during a news conference Monday.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Bale spoke of sneaking into restaurants through back doors and the anonymity he enjoyed when visiting Los Angeles during offseasons.

“Coming here sometimes you kind of scoot around and go unnoticed a little bit more,” he said. “I guess that’s a nice aspect.”

He said he learned to accept the drawbacks of playing in Europe as part of the job. The continent’s love of soccer made him wealthy, after all, enough to the point he was satisfied signing a deal with LAFC that will pay him $1.3 million in his first year — or about two weeks’ wages with Real Madrid.

Still, he acknowledged he wasn’t always comfortable with the paradox of being one of the most famous players in the world’s most popular sport: While everyone knows of you, very few people actually know you.

“Sometimes it’s not nice because some people judge you in a way that maybe you’re not and they think you’re doing things you’re not actually doing,” he said.

Gareth Bale, right, shakes hands with a fan during a news conference Monday.

Gareth Bale, right, shakes hands with a fan during a news conference Monday.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Part of this was the responsibility of Bale, who didn’t take a more proactive approach to telling his story.

But some of this was also a feature of a sport that doesn’t require salesmanship in most parts of the world.

Players are rarely forced to speak to the media; in fact, they are often discouraged from doing so. Bale said Real Madrid players can’t give interviews without team approval.

“What I did was just take myself completely out of the equation and let that monster just kind of carry on and be what it is,” he said.

In his case, “that monster” was his public persona as “The Golfer.”

His affinity for golf was blamed for everything from injuries to disappointing performances. His dedication was questioned and his relationship with Madrid fans was poisoned.

The perception that Bale cares more about his hobby than his profession persists to this day. When LAFC general manager John Thorrington announced Bale’s signing last month, multiple British reporters mentioned Bale’s love of golf, prompting Thorrington to state the obvious: “I think it’s entirely possible to like to play golf and also want to win.”

So, how much golf does Bale actually play?

“The perception out there is I probably play it five times a week,” he said, “whereas I maybe play once every two weeks.

“I enjoy my golf. I enjoy watching it. I enjoy playing it. I really don’t play it an awful lot. I prioritize my training and my games first, and at the correct moment, I’ll play golf like anyone else. I always try to put myself in the best condition to be 100% in a game and try not to risk that.”

That wasn’t the only point Bale clarified Monday, as he also pushed back against the popular view that he would use LAFC to ready himself for this year’s World Cup in Qatar and retire shortly after.

Bale was doing more than joining a new team. He was re-claiming authority over his own story.

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