Above all, soccer is about enjoyment – a fact often overlooked even when it comes to the players.
That was one of the main motivations behind Gareth Bale joining LAFC this summer, having seen his immensely successful tenure at Real Madrid come to a somewhat sour end.
The 33-year-old still has plenty to offer and in just three substitute appearances, he already has one goal and three wins to his name. Bale is fully embracing life in Major League Soccer and it’s certainly having a positive impact on his mental state.
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“I think any player will tell you if they have a smile on their face, they enjoy football more, you play better, a bit more enthusiastically, and life seems a little bit better,” Bale told Fox Sports after LAFC’s 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders on Friday. “I want to get back to enjoy my football, and I feel like I am on the road to do that and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.”
He added: “It’s hard to pinpoint but a happy environment, the fans are so welcoming. Even in the away stadiums, they are not so bad, I guess. It’s just a family friendly environment and it’s what football should be, the place where you bring your kids. It’s not hostile, and it just seems like a great environment in the MLS.”
While Bale is currently focusing on playing with a smile, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar looms large. The forward’s ultimate goal in joining LAFC was to ensure he played enough games to be fit and ready to lead Wales into their first appearance at the tournament since 1958.
Friday’s win on his home debut at Banc of California Stadium saw Bale complete 28 minutes from the bench; his longest outing so far. So, how long until we see him appear in the starting line-up alongside LAFC’s existing attacking powerhouses like Carlos Vela and Cristian Arango?
“He’s probably around a 45-minute range,” head coach Steve Cherundolo said of the five-time Uefa Champions League winner. “Yeah, you can fast track it or you can be careful about it and, you know looking back over the past couple years I think we’re better off being sure what we’re doing and we’re communicating every day and making sure that he feels good. And now we’re adding to what he already has, and so I think it’s a healthy progression.”