From their very conception, Los Angeles Football Club have made no small plans. And the current MLS frontrunners laid down another marker for the rest of the league on Monday afternoon, proudly introducing the global superstar they believe will push them over the top in their pursuit of a first MLS Cup title.
It was Gareth Bale’s first official interaction with US-based media as an LAFC player, and the Welsh icon underlined his commitment to his new club – not just as a place to stay fit and sharp for the Qatar 2022 World Cup this fall, but a longer-term home where he hopes to contribute to success on par with his incredible achievements at Real Madrid.
“I wouldn't be here otherwise,” said Bale, emphasizing his desire to dive into “the slog,” as one reporter put it, the varied challenges MLS poses to new arrivals. “Of course I'm up for everything here. I'm still 32, like it says on the board, 33 at the end of the week, so I still have many years to come. I haven't come here just to be here for six months, 12 months. I've come to try to be here as long as possible. I want to do as well as I can and I want to try and make my mark on this league, on this team.”
Euros, World Cup?
A five-time UEFA Champions League winner, three-time LaLiga champion and three-time Club World Cup title-winner with Madrid, Bale’s ability to dominate matches of the highest caliber has never been in question. It’s his troubling injury history and difficulty maintaining full fitness that has been more problematic. Hence the widespread perception his LAFC tenure will be relatively brief, as he seeks to be at his best for Wales’ first trip to the World Cup since 1958.
Not so fast, said Bale, who sounded a great deal further from retirement than some pundits have painted him.
“It's not just a short thing, as I said. Also [it] gives me the best opportunity to keep going to the next Euros [in 2024], maybe further,” he noted, alluding to the possibility of also reaching the 2026 World Cup in North America. “So my plan is to really work hard; it's a great physical team, medical staff, performance staff at the training ground. We've got a great plan going forward to get me up to speed and hopefully last as long as possible.
"A historic moment"
LAFC launched in 2018 with Mexican star Carlos Vela as their cornerstone Designated Player, yet have generally not delved into the market for big-name recruits from abroad to the same extent as their crosstown elders and rivals the LA Galaxy. With the arrival of Bale and Italian legend Giorgio Chiellini, both remarkably on Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) deals, that may be evolving.
“Since we started this project, we have often talked about our vision and what we hope this club could eventually become. Of course we want to win trophies and championships, but we also want it to be a destination for top players from around the world,” said lead managing owner Larry Berg, “to bring legendary players to what I believe is one of the top cities in the world – I think the top city in the world.
“Bringing in world-class players like Giorgio and now Gareth is the next step in the growth of the club. Being able to bring a player and more importantly a person of Gareth's caliber to LAFC is not only a historic moment for Los Angeles and MLS, but for the sport in the United States.”
LAFC hoisted the 2019 Supporters’ Shield via one of the most dominant regular-season displays MLS has ever seen, and fell just short of the Concacaf Champions League trophy the following year. MLS Cup has been more elusive, however.
Conversations with Bale – who played out his last Madrid contract earlier this year and became a free agent – and his representatives assured the Black & Gold leadership the former Tottenham star has both the capacity and the desire to bring transformational qualities both on and off the pitch.
“It became very clear, abundantly clear, that Gareth shared LAFC's ambition to win trophies,” said co-president and general manager John Thorrington. “For us as a club, when the opportunity came, what better way for us to win trophies than welcome a player who has won 19 trophies at his previous club, Real Madrid? So in short, we saw this as a special opportunity to welcome a special player to a special club.”
“I want to make my mark"
As much as the league has matured since then, Bale sounded a bit like David Beckham on his arrival at the Galaxy – also from Madrid – in 2007, the dawn of the DP era as we know it. He even hopes to give LAFC’s rising crops of homegrown academy talent a hand on their path towards pro careers.
“It's just an exciting project to be a part of. I want to try and help grow football in the US as well. As a part of it, I want to try and help the youngsters grow. I was speaking to a couple of them this morning, and yeah, if I can help them in any way possible, I will,” said the Welshman, who's signed through the summer of 2023 with options through 2024. “For players who have experienced a lot in their career, I think we have a responsibility to grow the game all around the world as well.
“I want to make my mark on this league.”
Bale, clearly chasing plenty more with club and country, becomes arguably the biggest MLS name upon his arrival. And he's part of a summertime influx of talent across the league, eager to tackle all it entails.
"This is a league that's really growing, that's come a long way in maybe the last 10 years, and everybody is striving to try and improve this league," Bale said. "I think the players that come over see that as well. I don't think anyone sees it now as a retirement league. They see it as a league that's physical, that's demanding.
"Like I said, the weather changes and travel are difficult, but it's something that's really exciting to play in front of fans, like the 3252, is what you play football for. I think the atmosphere over here is really incredible in these stadiums and it will be great to witness it."