The former Real Madrid, Tottenham and Wales phenomenon announced his decision to retire at the age of 33 in an emotional statement, in which he paid tribute to everyone he had worked with in his 16-year professional career. It was somewhat surprising, given Bale's age and the fact that he had only recently embarked on a new adventure in Major League Soccer with Los Angeles FC, but it was half-expected, too.
So why did Bale call time on his playing career? GOAL takes a look at the reasons and what he might do next.
Why has Gareth Bale retired from playing football?
Bale says he arrived at his decision to retire from football "after careful and thoughtful consideration", explaining that he had "realised [his] dream". In his statement, he indicated that his retirement from playing offered "an opportunity for a new adventure", but it remains unclear what exactly that will be.
He was not struck by a career-ending injury (albeit he has had his fair share over the years) and his most recent deal with LAFC, which was penned in June 2022, was year-long with options to extend it through to 2024, suggesting he was open to prolonging his playing days. Indeed, only a few weeks short ago he was talking about getting ready to come back for Wales' qualifiers in March.
"I'll keep going as long as I can and as long as I'm wanted," he said at the time. "We go again in March. I hope to be involved."
While 33 is a relatively young age for an elite footballer to retire in this day and age, with many playing on into their late 30s, rumours have swirled around Bale's future, but that had mostly centered around the international scene. Few expected he would bid farewell to the game entirely so soon.
Bale had helped LAFC claim the MLS Cup last season, with his last touch of the ball at club level being a thundering header that sent the finale against the Philadelphia Union to a penalty shootout. After playing a bit-part role through much of 2022, Bale was expected to be a key figure in 2023 but, ultimately, decided it was the right time to end his career after guiding Wales through the World Cup in the fall.
Some bookmakers have already begun offering odds on what the Cardiff native might do next, with the prosaic paths of coaching and punditry being included, though a deeper dive into the world of golf could also be on the cards given his much-publicised love of the sport - he's close to a scratch handicap, you know!
In a follow-up statement thanking Wales and the Welsh team, he said that he was stepping back "for now", but added that he was not stepping away, which could possibly be an indication that he will remain close to the national team in one form or another.
Why was Gareth Bale allowed to leave LAFC early?
Bale only joined LAFC in the summer of 2022, signing a 12-month contract with options to extend it through to 2024. However, his retirement sees him end his time with the Californian team prematurely. Despite this, his final club wished him well.
"We want to thank Gareth for everything he brought to our Club," LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington said in a statement. "He arrived here with a goal to win championships in L.A., and, like he has done everywhere else in his career – he succeeded. It was an honor to have one of the most talented, dynamic and exciting players of his generation finish his career with a title for LAFC."
It was reported after the World Cup that a clause was included in Bale's contract that would allow him to walk away from the club if an agreement could be reached between all parties, and it seems that was the case as he chose to hang up his boots.
Full Gareth Bale retirement statement
You can read the full retirement statement from Bale below:
"After careful and thoughtful consideration, I announce my immediate retirement from club and international football. I feel incredibly fortunate to have realised my dream of playing the sport I love. It has truly given me some of the best moments of my life. The highest of highs over 17 seasons, that will be impossible to replicate, no matter what the next chapter has in store for me.
"From my very first touch at Southampton to my last with LAFC and everything in between, shaped a club career that I have an immense pride and gratitude for. Playing for and captaining my country 111 times has truly been a dream come true.
"To show my gratitude to all of those that have played their part along this journey, feels like an impossibility. I feel indebted to many people for helping to change my life and shape my career in a way I couldn't have ever dreamed of when I first started out at 9 years old.
"To my previous clubs, Southampton, Tottenham, Real Madrid and finally LAFC. All of my previous managers and coaches, back room staff, team mates, all the dedicated fans, my agents, my amazing friends and family, the impact you have had is immeasurable.
"My parents and my sister, without your dedication in those early days, without such a strong foundation, I wouldn't be writing this statement right now, so thank you for putting me on this path and for your unwavering support.
"My wife and my children, your love and support has carried me through. Right beside me for all the highs and lows, keeping me grounded along the way. You inspire me to be better, and to make you proud.
"So, I move on with anticipation to the next stage of my life. A time of change and transition, an opportunity for a new adventure..."