Gareth Bale bid farewell to Real Madrid and earned another honor on Wednesday — this time from Queen Elizabeth II.
The five-time Champions League winner, whose Madrid contract expires this month after nine years, was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire, or MBE, in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List.
The announcement of the honor for services to football and charity, which coincides with celebrations of the 96-year-old monarch’s Platinum Jubilee, came while Bale is on international duty with Wales. The 32-year-old forward will be hoping to lead Wales to its first World Cup since 1958 on Sunday in a playoff final against Ukraine in Cardiff.
He’s also looking for a new club after confirming earlier Wednesday that his time at Madrid is over. There was no prospect of him earning a new contract at the Spanish champions, having fallen out of favor at the team that signed him for a then-world record fee of 100 million euros (now $107 million) in 2013 from Tottenham.
Although British football’s most decorated export, Bale could not consistently perform to his potential in Madrid and received harsh treatment from sections of fans and the media.
But Bale struck a positive note in his farewell message.
“I arrived here nine years ago as a young man who wanted to realize my dream of playing for Real Madrid,” he said in a letter posted on Twitter. “To wear the pristine white kit, to wear the crest on my chest, to play at the Santiago Bernabéu, to win titles and to be part of what it’s so famous for, to win the Champions League. I can now look back, reflect and say with honesty that this dream has become a reality and much, much more.”
Bale scored in two Champions League finals, including a magnificent bicycle kick in the 2018 win over Liverpool. But he did not feature in Saturday’s win over Liverpool in Paris that earned him a fifth European Cup.
“Together we were able to create some moments that will live forever in the history of this club and football,” Bale said. “It has been an honor.”
Overall, he helped Madrid win 19 trophies, including three Spanish titles and four Club World Cups. He spent last season away back at Tottenham, although the loan move couldn’t reignite his career in Spain.
“Real Madrid would like to express its sincere gratitude and affection to Gareth Bale, a player who will forever be part of the club’s legacy,” the club said. “Real Madrid is and always will be his home, and we would like to wish him and all his family the best of luck for the future.”
Bale was booed the few times he got to play this season, and was even jeered by some during the team’s title celebrations after it won the Champions League a record-extending 14th time last week.
“I write this message to say thank you to all my teammates, past and present, my managers, the back room staff and to the fans that supported me,” he said, not touching on his feuds.
He has long been at odds with Madrid fans who felt he didn’t make the club a priority and instead focused on Wales’ national team.
He once posed grinning for a photo celebrating a big win for his national team, holding up a Welsh flag with the words “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In That Order.”
Earlier this year, Bale spoke out against the psychological harm that professional athletes can receive from the media after a leading Spanish sports daily published a column entitled “The Welsh Parasite.” Bale accused the media of “encouraging anger and disappointment in fans” during a season when he made only seven appearances and scored one goal for Madrid.