The man of the hour at Banc of California Stadium sat comfortably and confidently in the press room after watching the side he was the chief architect of win yet again, this time a 2-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls. He was ready to take questions from an uncharacteristically crowded space, both physically with media in the room and those joining virtually.
And he began with quite the understatement.
“We’ve had some really exciting news recently,” LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington told the media Sunday.
To put it lightly.
The crown jewel
About two weeks after officially acquiring Italian legend Giorgio Chiellini, LAFC re-signed former Landon Donovan MLS MVP Carlos Vela to a new contract (which was set to expire at the end of June) and confirmed that Welsh superstar Gareth Bale had signed. That qualifies as “some really exciting news” – even the most bitter rival fans would admit it in moments of pure honesty.
LAFC, already sitting atop the Supporters’ Shield table just about halfway through the 2022 MLS season, have sorted Vela’s future and now will welcome Chiellini and Bale, who are both eligible to debut on July 8 against the LA Galaxy in El Trafico.
The ambitious and insatiable club is building something special, with Bale as the crown jewel. The five-time UEFA Champions League winner with Real Madrid just led Wales to their first World Cup in more than half a century, and they’ll open Group B play on Nov. 21 against the United States. His contract with the Spanish giants was expiring this summer and he said he would decide his future after Wales navigated their UEFA World Cup playoff.
Talk about Bale’s future in Europe had centered around what he would do over the next six months to stay fresh for the World Cup, with some speculation that maybe he’d retire if Wales didn’t qualify for the tournament in Qatar.
Bale instead signed a 12-month contract with LAFC through 2023, with a club option to extend for the future. That’s the goal for both parties.
“LAFC and Gareth are hoping this is a long-term partnership,” Thorrington said. “It was never about six months just ahead of the World Cup. We were always talking longer-term than that.”
With Bale and Chiellini joining a squad filled with young and in-prime players alike, with Vela (officially) committing his future to the club and with a Designated Player spot still open (!), LAFC hope they’re in the midst of a trophy-filled season.
Between injuries and not being selected when fit, Bale was restricted to just 290 minutes across seven appearances in all competitions during his final season with Real Madrid, where he was once the most expensive player in the world and a talisman upon joining from Tottenham in 2013.
Bale’s injury history is extensive. He has not surpassed the 2,000-minute mark in a single LaLiga season since 2014-15 and his motivation had been questioned, with his golf hobby essentially vilified by Spanish media. It is not an opinion LAFC share.
“It is entirely possible to like to play golf and also want to win,” Thorrington pointed out sharply. “They’re not mutually exclusive concepts.”
Bale played more over the last 13 months for Wales (16 games) than Madrid, another fact LAFC point to in terms of his durability and motivation. With his country, he looked like himself, carrying the burden en route to an unlikely World Cup qualification over Ukraine.
“You don’t win five Champions League trophies and you’re not the one-time most expensive player in the world if you don’t have that hunger,” Thorrington added. “I know that. Steve [Cherundolo] knows that. I’m really excited for what this change of scenery will mean for Gareth.”
On the field, LAFC are excited about the possibilities Bale and the incumbent group provide.
Bale can play from his natural right-wing spot, cutting in on his dominant left foot like Vela does, or through the center as a forward, also like Vela does. With those two players leading the attack alongside Brian Rodriguez, Chicho Arango, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Mahala Opoku and Danny Musovski, Cherundolo faces plenty of options as head coach.
“We see great tactical flexibility for where he can play. He’s shown throughout his career he can play multiple positions,” Thorrington said. “We’re excited about him bringing that. He can play centrally or wide, and what he brings with his technical ability and physical athleticism will lead to great success with LAFC.”
The Black & Gold's plethora of final-third choices will bode well for Bale’s injury history and keep him at peak performance rather than over-extending him.
“Understanding how to manage a player like Gareth – whether you call him a thoroughbred racehorse, a Ferrari, whatever your analogy is – they need extra attention, care and management,” Thorrington said of the 32-year-old. “That is our attention here. We’re confident we’ll be able to do that.”
Wait, a TAM deal?
In addition to the huge news that one of the best talents of his generation is joining the league ahead of the World Cup, MLS fans were shocked to find out Bale won’t even require a DP spot.
Bale is being added to the roster with Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), much like Chiellini, though would be a DP if his club option is picked up next summer following his 12-month contract. Regardless, it’s mind-boggling for those looking on to conceptualize how the deal was swung without a DP spot.
“The math is not entirely difficult,” Thorrington said. “The rules are the rules – we knew what we could afford. Again, this wasn’t a financial conversation with Gareth nor for us. If Gareth was making this decision for a financial motive, he would not be in MLS.”
The end goal, they hope, is trophies. LAFC have already won a 2019 Supporters’ Shield in their five-year history and got to the 2020 Concacaf Champions League Final. With Bale and Chiellini joining Vela, who officially extended his contract on Tuesday, that’s a great push for hardware.
“From day one, Carlos, I think, has been the best player in the league when he’s healthy,” Thorrington said. “For Carlos and his desire to win, he sees the importance of adding these pieces to help what we already have."