Wales manager Rob Page told Gareth Bale it was the right time to finish his football career – and hinted he could have a role to play in his set-up in the future.
Bale, a five-time Champions League winner at Real Madrid, ended a glittering career on Monday after winning 111 caps and scoring 41 goals for his country – two Wales men’s team records.
The 33-year-old’s decision came after Wales’ disappointing performance at the World Cup in Qatar when Page’s team failed to get out of their group and Bale struggled due to a lack of match fitness.
“It’s phenomenal what he’s done for us – not just from a footballing point of view but as a nation as well,” Page exclusively told Sky Sports.
“He’s put Wales on the map globally for what he’s done in European football at Real Madrid and what he did at Tottenham in the Premier League and then in the World Cup with Wales.
“From a cultural point of view and for Wales in general, we should all be very proud over what he’s done for us.
“I’ve now worked with him for a couple of years and when I was in the U21s, I could see from afar that he was passionate about playing for his country.
“Now, having worked with him closely, it’s another level again. He was so proud to put that jersey on. He was the first through the building and he’s a credit to himself and his family the way he conducts himself in the group.
“Of course, he’ll be missed. It’s not the news we wanted to start the new year with but we knew it was going to come one day. We just didn’t know when it was going to come.”
At the end of Bale’s heartfelt statement, Bale said he was “stepping down but not stepping away”.
Page is hopeful the next generation can tap into his wealth of knowledge.
“When you’ve got someone of Bale’s stature and what he’s done for Wales, the impact he can have – even being in the changing room and the impact he can have on the players, then I’ve got to take advantage of that.
“He’s interested to do it in whatever capacity and that’s a chat we will have privately about further down the line no doubt. I’m passionate about keeping him involved.
“He’ll be absolutely interested and I think there may have been discussions before this about staying involved in some capacity.
“The important thing to do right now is to celebrate his career. When the time is right we’ll talk about what capacity we keep him involved.”
Page revealed Bale contacted him on Sunday to inform him of his decision to retire, and said he was in full agreement with his captain.
“Gareth messaged to say he needed a conversation,” Page added to BBC Radio Wales.
“I knew it was something significant, but when he announced it to me it didn’t come as a complete surprise.
“I told him I think it’s the right time to bow out. You’ve just scored in a World Cup and got everything on your CV, what you’ve done for this country is unbelievable.”
Wales start their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign in March and Page confirmed that Bale, who was playing for Los Angeles FC in the MLS, would have been selected for that double-header against Croatia and Latvia.
He said: “He would have had a part to play. The roles might have changed slightly.
“Would he be able to play 90 minutes back to back? Lessons have been learned from Qatar, the athleticism every team had out there.
“It’s too big an ask probably for him, he might have been an impact player coming off the bench.
“There’s a mixture of emotions for me. I’m excited now because it’s an opportunity to get some of the young ones through – players like Brennan Johnson to take the opportunity and step up to the plate – and get the next Gareth Bale.
“But there’s also a hint of sadness because it’s the last time we’ll see Gareth Bale putting a pair of boots on for Wales.”
Page says he has had a conversation with Bale about him staying within the Wales set-up, although the exact nature of that role remains unclear.
“I would love him still to be involved in some capacity, what that role is don’t know yet,” he said.
“It’s a big adjustment for him, going into a normal life, but we’ll have another conversation with him in a few weeks.
“We’ll make a plan moving forward because he’s got so much to offer in a changing room and hotel environment.
“His presence is something I would be really keen on, to keep him involved, but I’ll leave it up to Gareth and what suits him and his family.
“You’ve seen Belgium do it with Thierry Henry. Ex-players stepping up, whether it’s a coaching role, an ambassadorial role, or being part of a committee making decisions.
“I’m sure the FAW (Football Association of Wales) would also be keen to keep Gareth involved in some capacity.”
LAFC had named Bale in their pre-season camp on Sunday before being told that he was quitting the game.
“It did surprise us in one sense but on the other hand, once he explained where he was at mentally and physically we completely understood and respected the decision,” LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington said at a press conference.
“We appreciate their forthrightness in coming to us when they did. Last year I think the frustration, mostly for Gareth but for us, is things were a bit stop-start at times.”
Bale started just two games after moving to the United States in June, scoring three goals in 13 appearances overall.
But Bale provided a lasting legacy as his stoppage-time header against Philadelphia Union took the MLS Cup final to penalties, which LAFC eventually won to lift the trophy for the first time.
Thorrington said: “I think there was temptation where that frustration would win the day when we talk about the narrative of what Gareth Bale’s time at LAFC meant here.
“We have an MLS Cup because of everybody, but without him we don’t have an MLS Cup.
“The ultimate conclusion of his story here in six short months is that it worked. He’s forever a part of LAFC history.”