Gareth Bale agrees to one-year deal with LAFC
The best team in MLS is about to get a whole lot better.
LAFC, which entered the weekend atop the Supporters’ Shield standings while leading the league in points and goals, has reached agreement on a one-year deal that will bring Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale to the team, according to a person with knowledge of the talks who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. That comes just days before the team is expected to announce a contract extension for captain Carlos Vela, a former league MVP.
The signing of Bale is one of the most significant in LAFC’s short history. The Welsh national team captain, who will turn 33 next month, spent the last eight seasons with Spanish giant Real Madrid, winning three La Liga championships and five Champions League titles. He scored 106 goals in 258 appearances for Real Madrid.
The most expensive transfer in soccer history when he joined Real Madrid for $106.5 million in 2013, Bale will be joining LAFC as a free agent and will not occupy a designated player spot, meaning his salary, paid for with allocation money, will be less than $1.612 million.
He is the second veteran European player to join LAFC (9-3-3) on a free transfer this summer, following legendary Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. That marks a change in philosophy for general manager John Thorrington, whose focus in building the club had been primarily on young, talented South Americans such as Uruguayan Diego Rossi, Colombian Eduard Atuesta and Ecuadoran José Cifuentes.
Bale is just the eighth player in five seasons to join LAFC off a European roster, and the acquisition continues what has been a stellar year for Thorrington. Over the winter he signed midfielder Ilie Sánchez as a free agent and traded for midfielder Kellyn Acosta, goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau and defender Ryan Hollingshead.
The first U.S. World Cup gave birth to MLS and the league’s success led to the second U.S. World Cup.
And LAFC still has a designated player spot available.
LAFC plays host to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday at Banc of California Stadium. Bale won’t be eligible to join the team until Friday, although it’s unlikely he will be in the country and have all his necessary paperwork completed by then. A more likely target for his debut would be July 8, when LAFC plays host to the Galaxy.
The Spanish sports daily Marca reported that Bale was the third-highest-paid player in Europe last season, earning $35.3 million. He had considered a return to Wales with Cardiff City of the second-tier English championship, meeting with manager Steve Morison on Wednesday.
At the time his agent, Jonathan Barnett, told reporters “what Gareth does next is not about money.” But it is about the World Cup, which Wales qualified for earlier this month for just the second time in its history.
The Welsh captain played a career-low seven games for Real Madrid last season and a repeat of that would have left him unfit. The move to MLS, conversely, will allow him to play every week to prepare for the tournament, which kicks off in November, a couple of weeks after the MLS Cup.
“Any player will tell you, playing week-in week-out, your body becomes more robust, you get used to it and you get fitter by doing that,” Bale said earlier this month before a Nations League game against Belgium. “I just need to play games and I’ll be good to go.”
Wales will meet the U.S. in its group-play opener.
Bale’s LAFC deal reportedly includes an 18-month option that, if exercised, would keep him in MLS through the 2024 season.
Meanwhile the soap opera that has surrounded Vela’s status is expected to end this week, keeping the league’s all-time single-season scoring leader with LAFC at least through the end of this season.
Vela, who scored 34 times in leading LAFC to a Supporters’ Shield in 2019, was the most expensive player in MLS last season with a salary of $6.5 million. In January he took a pay cut to sign a six-month extension, which expires Thursday, and Vela has been reluctant to sign an additional extension.
“For the moment there’s nothing signed,” Vela said after LAFC’s 1-1 draw in Seattle last weekend, a game that marked his 100th MLS appearance. “We’re still in the same situation.
“In the end this is a business. I’m open to be here, but if it’s not working and this thing is not happening, I’m also open to be in another place.”
Vela leads the team with six goals but has started just 31 of 71 games over the last three seasons, scoring just 16 times combined.