LONDON, United Kingdom, Jun 1 – Real Madrid’s Welsh star Gareth Bale will hope for a triumphant homecoming in Saturday’s Champions League final against Juventus in Cardiff.
Ahead of the game, AFP Sport looks at four Welsh figures who, to greater or lesser degrees, have marked the histories of the two clubs:
John Charles (Juventus, 1957-1962)
One of British football’s most successful exports, Charles joined Juventus from Swansea City in 1957 and proved a huge hit, scoring 108 goals in 155 appearances and winning three Serie A titles. An imposing centre-forward, who could also play at centre-back, Charles was never booked or sent off, earning him the nickname ‘Il Gigante Buono’ — ‘The Gentle Giant’. Third in the voting for the 1959 Ballon d’Or, he was voted Juve’s greatest ever foreign player in a 1997 fan poll. “We mourn a great champion and a great man,” said Juve vice-president Roberto Bettega when Charles died in 2004. “He is a person who interpreted the spirit of Juventus in the best possible manner and he represented the sport in the best and purest way.”
Ian Rush (Juventus, 1987-1988)
Rush followed in Charles’s footsteps when he joined Juve from Liverpool 30 years later, but things did not go nearly as well. The moustachioed North Walian scored only seven league goals in his single season in Turin and returned to Liverpool in August 1988. “I went there a boy, I came back a man,” Rush told Wales Online recently. “I didn’t really enjoy the football because when they’d go a goal ahead, they’d want to defend that 1-0 win. But I learnt a lot and it was a great experience for me. I still have a connection with the club.”
John Toshack (Real Madrid, 1989-1990 and 1999)
A former Liverpool and Wales striker, Toshack made his name as a manager during a four-year stint with Real Sociedad, which alerted the attention of Real Madrid. He led Madrid to the title in his first season, a swashbuckling team spearheaded by Mexico great Hugo Sanchez plundering a then-record 107 goals. Sacked the following November after a run of three successive defeats, he returned to the Bernabeu dug-out in 1999, but lasted only eight months. Toshack, who left Moroccan club Wydad Casablanca last September, was famous in Spain for his baffling literal translations of British idioms such as “pigs might fly” and “water off a duck’s back”.
Gareth Bale (Real Madrid, 2013-date)
Less than four years into his time at the Bernabeu, Bale can become the first British player to have won three Champions League titles at a foreign club. The former Tottenham Hotspur flier joined Madrid in a world-record 100 million euros ($112.1 million) transfer in 2013. He finished his first season by scoring a famous solo winner in the Copa del Rey final and netting the decisive second goal in a 4-1 extra-time win over Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final. A second European crown arrived last season and he has just won his first La Liga title, but injury problems mean the 27-year-old is likely to start on the bench on Saturday. “It is massively special for me personally, as it is where I was born, where I grew up,” said Bale. “Any Champions League final is special, but obviously this is a little bit extra special.”