Gareth Bale was only behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the peak of his career, according to former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp.
Wales legend Bale announced his retirement from football on Monday, bringing to a close a career that included three LaLiga titles and five Champions League medals with Real Madrid, among other accolades.
Prior to his move to Spain, Bale made a name for himself at Spurs under Redknapp, where he won two PFA Player of the Year awards and scored 71 goals in 237 games for the Premier League side.
Speaking to Stats Perform, Redknapp said he was not overly surprised by Bale's decision, and feels at his very best his name belongs in the most esteemed of company.
"I suppose it was a bit of a surprise but not a great surprise," he said. "He'd gone to America [joining MLS side Los Angeles FC in June], not played many games and even though he came on in the [MLS Cup] final and scored a goal, he looked like he wasn't figuring in their team much.
"He played in the World Cup, did okay [and it was] great to get Wales there, a fantastic achievement. But in all honesty, it wasn't a Gareth Bale when they played England [losing 3-0 in the group stage] or anybody really that we've come to see over the years.
"He maybe felt he couldn't reach the heights [he used to] and the standards he set over so many seasons when he was absolutely fantastic for me, when he was the third-best player in the world for a period behind Ronaldo and Messi.
"And maybe he felt he couldn't quite get back to that again and decided [to] maybe call it a day. But he's had a fantastic career."
9 – Gareth Bale scored nine goals from outside the box in the 2012-13 Premier League campaign – the most a player has netted from outside the box in a single season in the competition’s history. Rockets. pic.twitter.com/3BRHXQWoQB— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 9, 2023
Bale had already been at Tottenham for a year before Redknapp was appointed in 2008, and the former West Ham and Southampton boss knew he had a gem on his hands as he decided to move him further forward from his original position at left-back.
"I sort of inherited him in that position," Redknapp explained. "But I knew him from Southampton, I'd followed his career very closely and knew that he was an amazing talent from a very early age.
"When I went to Tottenham, I was very much looking forward to working with him because I just felt he was a player with the ability to go on to become a big star. He was a left-back, I pushed him forward onto the left wing, but if he had stayed at left-back, he'd have been the best left-back in the world, he was just an amazing talent.
"He had everything really, he had the physique, he had the ability to run, that speed with and without the ball, he could dribble, he could shoot, he could head it. There was nothing really that he couldn't do.
"He wasn't obsessed with football. He wouldn't be one in the dressing room that would voice any opinions or one that would want to spend hours out practising after training. It just came very easy to him, he was just a fantastic, naturally gifted footballer and athlete."
Redknapp credited Bale's form at his peak to his professionalism, and after scoring 21 goals in 33 Premier League games in 2012-13, he earned a big money move to Madrid.
"He was so easy to handle, he was just a smashing lad," Redknapp said. "He was low maintenance, was never a problem, you knew at night he wasn't out in nightclubs or drinking. He's a family man.
"[He was] quite humble, quite shy. But when he got on the pitch and he got the ball, away he went and when he got it, whoever was playing against him was in trouble every time... [it was] just amazing what he could do."