In the history of the Spanish game, only two Welshmen have claimed the La Liga title, and both celebrated their success in the Spanish capital. John Toshack was the first as he managed Real Madrid to the title during the memorable 1989/90 season, while Gareth Bale has claimed two La Liga titles since he arrived at the club in the summer of 2013.
But both figures have experienced the pressure and turbulent support that comes from representing one of the most illustrious names in the world game. Like Ian Rush in our previous feature, Toshack was also a Liverpool legend, and guided Real Madrid to the title as his side scored an incredible 107 goals during the campaign, with the legendary Mexican forward Hugo Sánchez finding the back of the net 38 times. A defining season in the history of the club, it was not enough for Toshack to keep his job when a slow start to the following season saw him depart by November.
Almost a decade later Toshack returned for a second spell at the club, but his public criticism of his players was not appreciated by the board and he was sacked for a second time less than a year later. However, Toshack did make one significant contribution to the future of the club as he promoted teenage shot-stopper Iker Casillas into the senior team in 1999. Casillas would of course enjoy a long and successful career for club and country, cementing his place as a legend in the history of Real Madrid.
Gareth Bale made a world-record move to Real Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur in 2013, and he has now scored over 100 goals for Los Blancos. In addition to claiming the La Liga title in 2016/17 and 2019/20, Bale's achievements in Spain are headlined by four UEFA Champions League medals and three FIFA Club World Cups. In total, Bale has won 13 trophies during his time in Spain, and has complimented his achievements by becoming the all-time leading goalscorer for Cymru while also being an influential figure behind the side qualifying for the finals of two major tournaments.
But the connection between Toshack and Bale extends beyond their respective careers at the Santiago Bernabéu. It was Toshack who fast-tracked Bale through the intermediate teams to make him the youngest-ever Cymru international at 16 years and 315 days when he came off the bench in a friendly against Trinidad & Tobago in Austria in May 2006. Bale provided the assist for Robert Earnshaw to score the winning goal in the 2-1 victory. A few months later he became Cymru's youngest-ever goalscorer when he converted a trademark free-kick against Slovakia in Cardiff.
Bale was one of a number of teenage stars promoted to the senior squad ahead of their time under Toshack, and while success was eventually delivered when the side qualified for EURO 2016, Toshack would not reap the benefits of his foresight and vision. With the late Gary Speed and then Chris Coleman inheriting a group of young players with international experience above their years, the work of Toshack and intermediate team manager Brian Flynn was at least not in vain.
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