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Joe Ledley believes Gareth Bale is the ‘best British player of his generation’

Wales v Republic of Ireland – UEFA Nations League – League B – Group 4 – Cardiff City Stadium
(Image credit: Mike Egerton)

Joe Ledley has described Gareth Bale as the best British player of his generation and says he would have had more respect if he had been English.

Real Madrid forward Bale is poised to win his 100th Wales cap against Belarus on Saturday after recovering from a hamstring tear which has ruled him out for two months.

Bale is in the final year of his Real contract with his time at the Spanish giants set to end next summer.

Wales – UEFA Euro 2016 – Media Activity – 5th July

Joe Ledley, left, and Gareth Bale, right, were Wales team-mates for over a decade (Joe Giddens/PA)

The 32-year-old Wales captain joined Real for a then-world record fee in 2013 and has won four Champions Leagues, three FIFA Club World Cups, two LaLiga titles and a Copa del Rey during his time in Spain.

Bale, who was twice named PFA player of the year while at Tottenham, claimed decisive goals in two Champions League finals and has scored over 100 goals for Real.

“If you look at his CV what he’s won and his individual performances, both at Tottenham and Madrid, then he’s by far the best British player of his generation,” former Wales midfielder Ledley told the PA news agency at a McDonald’s Fun Football session.

“Does he get enough credit? Definitely not. I think if he was English he’d get a lot more praise.

Real Madrid v Liverpool – UEFA Champions League – Final – NSK Olimpiyskiy Stadium

Bale has won the Champions League four times at Real Madrid (Nick Potts/PA)

“Look at what someone like Jack Grealish gets off the media. But Bale’s a totally different level.

“Being Welsh you don’t get those credits that English players do.”

Bale will become the second Welshman after Chris Gunter to reach the 100-cap milestone.

The Cardiff City Stadium will pay homage to Wales’ record goalscorer and a player whose talismanic influence took the Dragons to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 – the country’s first appearance at a major tournament for 58 years.

It will be a far different setting to an end-of-season 2006 friendly in the Austrian city of Graz when Bale’s Wales story began.

At the tender age of 16 years and 315 days, Bale became Wales’ youngest international and gave a glimpse into the future by setting up Robert Earnshaw’s winner against Trinidad & Tobago.

“You could see the talent he had was frightening,” said Ledley, who played in that 2-1 victory after making his own Wales debut just a few months before.

“He had that incredible whip with his left foot and his passing and crossing was unbelievable.

Wales v Belgium – UEFA Euro 2016 – Quarter Final – Stade Pierre Mauroy

Bale leads the celebrations after Wales had beaten Belgium to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2016 (Joe Giddens/PA)

“He was so quick as well. Sometimes with quick players that final ball lets them down, but Gareth’s delivery was the best.

“He just needed confidence at that young age and he was ready for the next stage.”

Bale’s career took off at Tottenham and Real as he became one of the most recognisable and best paid players in world football.

But he has always been at his most contented in and around the Wales camp alongside players he knew from an early age.

England v Wales – UEFA Euro 2016 – Group B – Wales Training – Stade Felix Bollaert-Delelis

Bale, left, enjoys a joke with Chris Gunter, right, at a Wales training session (Joe Giddens/PA)

Ledley was a member of Wales’ ‘golf gang’ as Bale – who was known as ‘The Golfer’ by his Real team-mates – relaxed away from football by getting his handicap down to three or four.

“Gareth just loves meeting up with Wales, he has been like that from the first game in Austria,” Ledley said.

“He’s the first one to be in the hotel. He loves the atmosphere. Even if he’s injured he wants to be there with the players.

“Chris Coleman (Wales manager) didn’t mind the golf in the week before games.

France v Wales – International Friendly – Stade de France

Chris Coleman, pictured, was happy for Bale to play golf during Wales training camps (Steven Paston/PA)

“That is Gareth’s way of relaxing. He was the same with golf as he was with football and table tennis. So good at all of them, just relentless.”

The peak came in France in 2016 when Wales became the smallest nation to reach the semi-finals of the European Championship.

Having scored seven goals in qualification, Bale joined an exclusive band of players by netting in each group game at the tournament.

Asked if Wales would have achieved what they did without Bale, Ledley said: “I doubt it.

“Other people might say yes, but I don’t think so. When you’ve got a world-class player in his prime scoring vital goals it makes football a lot easier.”