Gareth Bale became Wales’ all-time top scorer with a hat-trick against China on Friday.
The 28 year old took his tally to 29 goals in 69 international appearances, eclipsing Ian Rush’s previous record of 28 goals in 66 outings.
“It’s an absolutely fantastic achievement,” Welsh manager Ryan Giggs said afterwards.
“He lifts everyone as he has an X-factor. He can hurt any team in the world.”
It took Bale just three minutes to find the back of the net against a poor China side – who Wales beat 6-0 in Gigg’s first match as Wales’ new manager – but his performance offered a timely reminder of his quality.
Bale’s three goals mean he is the first Wales player to score an international hat-trick since Rob Earnshaw in 2004, but surprisingly, it was the Real Madrid attacker’s first international goal since November 2016.
At 28, however, the former Southampton and Spurs star is likely to extend his lead as his country’s top scorer over the coming months and years.
While Bale continues to impress at international level, his club career has somewhat stalled.
Has Bale been a success?
In terms of trophies, Bale’s time at Madrid has been a huge success.
The Welsh international has won three Champions League’s, one La Liga title, the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Super Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup (both twice).
Bale played a crucial role in his debut season, producing big moments as Madrid won both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.
‘The Cannon’ scored the winner in the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona with a sublime individual goal, and scored Madrid’s second goal in their 4-1 Champions League final triumph over rivals Atletico after extra time.
His goal put Madrid ahead in extra time, and made him the first Welshman to score from open play in a European cup final.
Despite struggling to win over the fans for a variety of reasons, Bale ended his first season with two trophies and 22 goals.
He did not hit those spectacular heights in his second season, but did score Madrid’s second in their Club World Cup triumph over San Lorenzo, and ended his second season with 17 goals in all competitions.
He formed a formidable attacking trio alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, and the trio had amassed a staggering 200 collective goals in just over two years together.
His third season yielded a second Champions League trophy, and Bale provided the assist for Sergio Ramos’ header in the 1-1 draw with Atletico in the final, before converting his penalty as Real won 5-3 in the shootout.
However, he featured just 19 times in La Liga last season, and found himself behind Isco in the pecking order as the season wore on. In fact, there was uproar from Madrid fans at the mere suggestion that Bale would start ahead of the Spanish international in the Champions League final.
In the end, it was Isco who started, and Bale played just 13 minuted as Los Blancos stormed to a 4-1 win over Juventus to retain their European crown.
Bale ended the season with just nine goals, his lowest return since the 2009/10 season at Spurs.
Bale’s career in Spain has been plagued by injury since his (then) world record move to the La Liga giants.
He managed to play just five full matches of the opening 16 in his first season at the Bernabeau, and this trend of persistent injuries has continued.
Incredibly, he’s now missed 36% of Los Blancos’ matches since swapping North London for Madrid in 2013.
He has missed 19 games already this season, and 49 of the last 89 for Madrid overall, according to Sky Sports.
He has missed over 20 games in all bar one of his seasons in Spain (10 in 2014/15), and was unavailable for a whopping 33 matches (55%) of the European champions’ ties last season.
It has been difficult for Bale to play consistently, and this has had an impact on his performances, and his unavailability means that he is no longer guaranteed to start under Zinedine Zidane.
Bale is no longer a guaranteed starter for Madrid.
He now finds himself competing with Isco, Marco Asensio, and Lucas Vazquez for a role in Madrid’s menacing attack, and the Welsh international is currently losing the battle.
He has scored 12 goals this season, but the majority of those – like last season – have come against inferior opposition.
For whatever reason, Bale does not appear to be producing big moments in big games anymore at club level.
Madrid have endured a tough season in La Liga, and are currently 15 points behind leaders Barcelona, and four points behind their neighbours Atletico, who occupy second place.
Bale’s peripheral role in Real’s Champions League clashes against PSG is proof of his waning influence for the Spanish club. As pointed out by Guillem Balague, Bale played just 36 out of 180 minutes across both legs, in what were the two biggest games of the season for Zidane’s side.
Will Bale leave Real?
Madrid are expected to spend big in the summer to catch up with Barcelona, with the likes of Neymar, Eden Hazard, Harry Kane, and even Mo Salah being linked to the European champions.
The arrival of another star attacker could spell the end for Bale, who would still command an enormous transfer fee, despite his worrying injury record.
Bale’s inability to speak Spanish and his perceived selfishness at times on the pitch have meant that supporters have failed to grow to love him in the Spanish capital. Isco is a fan favourite at Madrid, and Asensio is regarded as one of the most promising prospects in European football.
The Welshman certainly has a lot to offer, and he may favour a return to the Premier League, where he will have no shortage of suitors. He has been linked with a host of clubs across Europe, including Manchester United, Chelsea, and Spurs in England, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in if Madrid bring in big names during the summer.
Despite the uncertainty over his future, Bale will be hoping to play an important part in Los Blancos’ attempts to win their third consecutive European crown.
After making history for his country this weekend, his next aim will be to replicate that form at club level again.