'Don't wait for something bad to happen': Bale warns greed could harm players

Gareth Bale has revealed to Sky News concerns football could become "too greedy", with players' mental and physical well-being endangered by growing fixture demands.

'don't wait for something bad to happen': bale warns greed could harm players

Gareth Bale

The former Wales captain, who won every major honour with Real Madrid, urged football authorities to act so "it doesn't take something bad to happen for that to change".

'don't wait for something bad to happen': bale warns greed could harm players

Gareth Bale lifting the Champions League trophy for Real Madrid in 2018. Pic: PA

In his first notable interview since retiring in January 2023, Bale reflected on the highs and lows of an illustrious career, assessed the wider state of the game - including what he describes as the need to scrap VAR - and expressed admiration for Jude Bellingham's immediate impact at Madrid.

'don't wait for something bad to happen': bale warns greed could harm players

Jude Bellingham has been 'fantastic'. Pic: PA

Bale retired at 33 as a five-time Champions League winner with Madrid - becoming Britain's most successful male footballing export while still facing difficult times winning over fans in Spain.

The pressures he felt are now only growing as competitions add matches, much to the frustration of global players' union FIFPRO.

Bale said in an exclusive interview with Sky News: "The intensity and the quickness [are] only getting higher, and it's very difficult to continue playing at that high level.

"And then when the level comes down, you only get scrutinised."

He said that while "everybody understands that money ... plays a big part" and "more games means more money", players "want to play the right amount of games where you can cope with it without it being dangerous".

He added: "It's a very fine line, but hopefully everybody can come together and come to a right resolution for player welfare."

Some players now could be required for more than 85 matches in a season for club and country with FIFA introducing a new 32-team Club World Cup every four years and UEFA expanding the Champions League.

'don't wait for something bad to happen': bale warns greed could harm players

Gareth Bale scoring a spectacular overhead kick against Liverpool. Pic PA

"The amount of fixtures is becoming more and more and it'll just become more demanding - and hopefully it doesn't take something bad to happen for that to change," Bale said.

"Looking after the players is an important thing. They're the ones who are growing the game, bringing the fans in to watch them."

Asked about hopes for football, Bale replied: "It's just about staying together as one and without certain things getting too greedy."

'VAR only made it worse'

One thing he certainly doesn't miss is video assistant referees delaying celebrations and ruling out goals.

Premier League clubs are set to vote next week on whether to scrap VAR.

VAR, Bale says, was "supposed to take away the controversy in football and it's only made it worse - I like the human error aspect".

"Things in slow motion look a lot worse than they do in real time. So, when you slow things down, a handball looks way more of a handball than it does in real action.

"So I don't like it. I would like to see it gone personally."

'Fantastic' Bellingham

Bale led Tottenham into the Champions League for the first time before an £85m move to Madrid in 2013.

The 14-time European champions are back in the final on Saturday at Wembley Stadium against Borussia Dortmund - a notable homecoming for Jude Bellingham after a wondrous first season in the Spanish capital.

The 20-year-old English star has already won LaLiga with 19 goals and six assists.

"At such a young age to be doing what he's doing is fantastic," Bale said. "It's great to see, it's refreshing and it's important."

It is especially important to get off to a good start at a club of such history and tradition like Real Madrid, he said.

"The intensity, the pressure that you can feel under...," said Bale.

"So, he had a great start so far. Obviously, they still have a big game to come and it'll be great for him to win a Champions League in his first season, that really settles the pressure and, hopefully, he can kick on from there."

Ups and downs in Madrid

Life in Madrid wasn't always easy for Bale, with jeers from his own fans despite being so integral on the big occasions with memorable goals like the scissor kick in the 2018 Champions League final win over Liverpool.

"Of course, there's always going to be ups and downs," Bale said. "It's how you deal with those, how you bounce back, how your character comes out.

"There were obviously some great times, there were obviously some bad. But, I think normally the good outweighs the bad in the end."

Undoubtedly the biggest moments of pride came with his country - leading Wales to the Euro 2016 semifinals and ending their 62-year World Cup exile in 2022.

"If you'd told me when I was a young kid that I would have the career I did, I probably would never have believed you," Bale said. "I feel like I overachieved".

"But I think as you get older, your goals change, your body changes, your talent kind of takes over, the hard work kicks in."

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Now there is more time for golf and family.

"It's been really nice just to take a step back and have that pressure just relieved a bit," he said.

"So it's been good. Obviously I've spoken to people when they've retired. It's all about keeping stuff a little bit busy."

Climate concern

Bale also expressed concern over how football impacts climate change - and stressed the importance of not neglecting the environment while chasing sporting glory.

His message for collective action on sustainability features alongside those of other players, clubs and fans on a Pledge Ball made from recycled boots by Champions League sponsor Mastercard.

"It's difficult to make big changes," Bale said. "It's always about making those little changes."

Bale urged the media "to write about the good things, not the bad things", mentioning Lewis Hamilton as an example of somebody who is "doing a lot of good" and gets "unfair" treatment.

"He made such a massive effort to kind of change his environment and to do right," Bale said of the F1 driver.

"And then people forget all the hard work he's done and write maybe about just the small, I guess, negative where he drives an F1 car, which is obviously CO2. So, people need to realise that he's doing a lot of good and not just that little bit of not bad.

"So, I think for him to make such a big change was massive. But to get the scrutiny I guess he got was very unfair."

The sense is Bale also prefers life without scrutiny, away from the football spotlight with no desire to become a coach.

"I'm enjoying time, being at home with the family, spending more time with the kids," he said.

"Enjoying life, to be honest."

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