Hernandez: Gareth Bale hopes to rewrite history with LAFC

At his opening press conference on Monday Gareth Bale explained how to play LAFC could allow him to represent Wales again at Euro 2024.

Maybe even world Cup in 2026.

“I came here to try and stay here as long as possible,” he said.

Later, in a private room at the Bank of California Stadium, Bale shared the much simpler ambitions 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 that I really wanted to be involved in, something that I felt I needed in my career that doesn’t motivate me, but something that I look forward to again and will be the environment. [in which] I was really enjoying myself again instead of feeling like there was a lot of negativity around.”

A less-veiled reference was to his time at Real Madrid, a 10-year period in which he lost control of his career and image.

He went from the most expensive player in history to an unpopular reserve who has been compared to a parasite.

“It may have been the same thing going on at Real Madrid as it is now,” Bale said, “but I always tried to go there just to play football and be a kid trying to have fun.”

A week after his 33rd birthday, his search for the child inside him brought him here.

It’s not the Champions League and Bale didn’t pretend it was. He chuckled as he remembered his previous life.

“I think it’s very different 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 Torrington.

Gareth Bale (center) poses for photos with LAFC lead managing owner Larry Berg (left) and general manager John Torrington during a press conference Monday.

(Marcio José Sanchez/Associated Press)

Bale talked about breaking into restaurants through the back door and the anonymity he enjoyed visiting Los Angeles during the off-season.

“Sometimes when you come here, you sort of wander around and go unnoticed for a little longer,” he said. “I think that’s a good aspect.”

He said he learned to accept the shortcomings of playing in Europe as part of the job. The continent’s love of football eventually made him rich enough that he was satisfied with signing a contract with the LAFC that would net him $1.3 million in his first year – or about two weeks’ salary at Real Madrid.

However, he admitted that he didn’t always like the paradox of one of the most famous players in the most popular sport in the world: although everyone knows about you, very few people really know you.

“Sometimes it’s not good because some people judge you in ways you might not and think you’re doing things you’re not really doing,” he said.

Gareth Bale (right) shakes hands with a fan during a press conference on Monday.

Gareth Bale (right) shakes hands with a fan during a press conference on Monday.

(Marcio José Sanchez/Associated Press)

This was partly the responsibility of Bale, who did not become more active in telling his story.

But in part it was also a feature of the sport, which does not 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 that Real Madrid players cannot give interviews without the approval of the team.

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

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

His penchant for golf has been blamed for everything from injuries to disappointing performances. His dedication was questioned and his relationship with the Madrid supporters was poisoned.

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

So, how much does Bale actually play golf?

“I think I play maybe five times a week,” he said, “when I can play once every two weeks.

“I enjoy my golf. I like watching this. I like to play it. I don’t really play it very much. I prioritize training and games, and when the time comes, I will play golf like everyone else. I always try to put myself in the best conditions to be 100% in the game and try not to risk it.”

That wasn’t the only point Bale made clear on Monday, as he also went against popular notion that he would be using the LAFC to prepare for this year. World Cup in Qatar. and soon retire.

Bale did more than join a new team. He was reasserting authority over his own history.