Gareth Bale: It took character to succeed at Real Madrid
Gareth Bale said he had shown character to battle through hard times to become a success at Real Madrid, after signing a contract extension which runs up to June 2022.
Bale, 27, joined from from Tottenham in 2013 for €10.7 million and has won two Champions League trophies and the Copa del Rey, while scoring 62 goals and providing 34 assists in 135 official games for Los Blancos.
It has not all been plain sailing however for the Wales international at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu though, with Real fans whistling him during a difficult second season in Spain, and cracks appearing at times in his relationship with teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.
"There have been a lot of great moments, in football there are always ups and downs," Bale said. "Winning the Champions League, for this club, is the pinnacle. There have been bad moments too, that always happens wherever you are, but the important thing is how you react.
"It would be easy to pack up and leave and go elsewhere, but it takes more character to stay here, fight and make things work."
Manchester United were reportedly keen to bring Bale back to the Premier League, but the player himself said he was unaware of interest from anywhere else and was delighted to remain at the "biggest club in the world."
"I could not tell you if anybody has been interested," he said. "If they have been, I don't know about it. I've just been focused on Real Madrid. We [players] never speak about these things anyway.
"Madrid are the biggest club in the world. When you have the chance to play for them you do not turn it down. I have loved every minute of it. I came here to progress as a footballer and I have definitely made the right decision. I want to keep winning trophies, and Real Madrid can offer that, they match all my ambitions."
Bale said that his three years in the Spanish capital had seen him grow up both as a person and a player.
"It has changed me quite a lot," he said. "It has made me grow up more as a person. I came to Madrid in the first place to try something different. It is never easy for British players to travel abroad and be successful but I wanted to improve my game.
"I have had two good years here, and one that was not so good, which helped me to grow up too. Good and bad press is all part and parcel of the game. If you listen too much you can get yourself down. I know from experience not to listen too much to either the good or the bad comments."
Bale has long been spoken about as a potential Ballon d'Or winner, but said such personal trophies were not something he thought about too much.
"As for the Ballon d'Or if you are playing well for your club and country and winning trophies, these things will happen," he said. "For me it has never been a personal goal, when I was younger it was always about winning team titles.
"The personal awards come around when the team does well. It is not something I am striving towards, if it does come fantastic, but first and foremost it is about the team."
Although one of this year's 30-man shortlist, Bale said he wished teammate Cristiano Ronaldo luck in the race for the 2016 award.
"If I was the judge I could answer but I'm not," he said. "A lot of players have had great seasons and I'm sure the voting will decide.
"Cristiano has been incredible this year, won the Champions League and Euro 2016. For me he has had a fantastic season and I wish him luck as my teammate."
Bale will be 33 when this new contract ends, and suggested he would like to finish his career at the Bernabeu.
"For sure, the reason I have signed for so long is I am very happy here," he said. "Each year I am more confident and playing better. I don't know when I will retire but my family are well settled here and I fully intend to see out my contract here."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan