Gareth Bale ruled out retirement after inspiring Wales to the World Cup, but where does he go after leaving Real Madrid? Tottenham and Southampton are options, Cardiff and Swansea would keep him close to home... and could Wrexham tempt him?!

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If there was any way Gareth Bale would have chosen to bow out at Real Madrid, winning the Champions League yet again would surely have been it. 

He may have been an unused substitute, but touching that famous trophy for a fifth time was a fairytale ending. Now, however, he will have to set his sights lower. After all, he is a free agent, and will have to choose his next destination very carefully.

This decision was placed on the backburner while he helped Wales qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 64 years, but, with those celebrations now winding to an emotional close, the time has come for him to end speculation over his future.

Gareth Bale inspired Wales to the World Cup and will now decide on which club to join next

Gareth Bale inspired Wales to the World Cup and will now decide on which club to join next

Gareth Bale inspired Wales to the World Cup and will now decide on which club to join next

Bale (front row, second from right) won the Champions League and bowed out at Real Madrid

Bale (front row, second from right) won the Champions League and bowed out at Real Madrid

There were suggestions, of course, that he could just retire - although that is extremely unlikely, and probably impossible, with a spot at Qatar this winter official. So, then, who is in the running and which club finds themselves in pole position? 

There will be a host of teams sniffing around him, and it is easy to see why. He departs the Bernabeu with a record of 106 goals in 256 appearances at the very top of the game, and has also won three LaLiga titles and the Copa del Rey.

Bale is nothing less than a serial winner and, despite his advancing age, would be more than an asset to any club on the hunt for silverware. But it is intriguing that sides in divisions lower than the Premier League have been strongly linked to him.

A serial winner, the forward will be an asset to any club, with a host of them interested in him

A serial winner, the forward will be an asset to any club, with a host of them interested in him

Indeed, the favourites with many bookmakers are Cardiff City. It may seem bizarre for him to drop into the Championship, but this would be a return to his hometown.

His agent, Jonathan Barnett, has also revealed Bale's next move will be for personal reasons, rather than out of a desire to chase the money. Wales boss Rob Page, intriguingly, has said the superstar joining the Bluebirds would tick 'a lot of boxes'.

There may also be MLS clubs in the race, while the likes of Southampton, Swansea and, sensationally, non-league Wrexham are part of the wild transfer merry-go-round. So, here Sportsmail attempts to work out what is next for the forward. 

CARDIFF

Bale has never represented his hometown club but, after the comments from his representative, it would be foolish to rule it out now at this stage.

As a youngster, he left Cardiff aged 10 to sign for Southampton, and spent almost a decade plying his trade on the south coast before moving on to Tottenham. 

It may make sense, then, for him to return to his roots, where his illustrious career took its very first steps. Living in his home country would also be an advantage.

Cardiff are tipped as the favourites to sign him by bookmakers, despite their second-tier status

Cardiff are tipped as the favourites to sign him by bookmakers, despite their second-tier status

'Cardiff has a lot of plusses,' Barnett said. 'He's from Wales, his family are from there. From a personal point of view it could appeal.'

He did also, insist, that he has not discussed the possibility with his players. 

There would need to be a major compromise over his exorbitant wages, but if there is a mutual interest between both parties, this deal could get over the line.

LIKELIHOOD RATING - 3/5

TOTTENHAM

Bale has spent two different spells at Tottenham, one as a player clearly destined to reach the very top, and another as a veteran struggling to deal with life at Madrid.

On both occasions, though, he was greeted with open arms, and may be again. 

The first stint, stretched across six years, lasted between 2007 and 2013, where he was crucial to the club's success. He later went on to move to Spain in a record deal.

Bale has spent two different spells at Tottenham, but he is unlikely to head back for another

Bale has spent two different spells at Tottenham, but he is unlikely to head back for another

The 2020-21 campaign saw him return on loan under Jose Mourinho, who appeared reluctant to field his star man initially before handing him a more prominent role. 

Bale has scored 71 goals for Spurs, and his sights could be set on netting more. A third spell is unlikely, admittedly, but Antonio Conte may find himself tempted. 

His choice of system, which favours rapid, tricky wingers in a 4-3-3 shape lines up exactly with how his side's former hero likes to play - and fans may want a return.

However, overall, it looks as though their fruitful partnership has ended. 

LIKELIHOOD RATING - 2/5 

A MOVE ABROAD

As with any superstar looking for a new challenge, clubs in MLS and other lucrative foreign leagues quickly get sucked into the speculation. This saga is no different. 

The Washington Post have claimed that talks have taken place between Bale's camp and DC United, with the US side open to paying him a very handsome salary.

They are even said to be willing to splash out more on him than they did luring Wayne Rooney across the Atlantic, meaning the package may tempt him.

DC United lured Wayne Rooney to the US with a big financial package, and they also want Bale

DC United lured Wayne Rooney to the US with a big financial package, and they also want Bale

Bale would become one of the latest heavyweights to make the move from Europe to stateside, although he may want to stay on his current continent for his next switch.

Saudi Arabia could also be his next destination. 

Some teams there have money to spend, and the adventure would be different to anything he has done so far.

LIKELIHOOD RATING - 4/5 

SOUTHAMPTON

This summer is set to be one of transition for Southampton, with their manager Ralph Hasenhuttl and his squad desperate to avoid another relegation scrap.

They will need reinforcements to do that, however, and the arrival of Bale would be exactly the boost required to potentially propel them out of the dogfight.

Bale is a former Saints academy product, having joined them as a schoolboy.

An academy graduate at Southampton, Bale has been linked with a move to the south coast

An academy graduate at Southampton, Bale has been linked with a move to the south coast

Under the leadership of owners Sport Republic, the future for the club is unclear. Hasenhuttl will be given money to spend, but the exact amount is not known. 

Pouncing to bring in Bale may be a short-term solution to this puzzle, but the quality he can provide, even just for a couple of seasons, can rejuvenate the club's mood.

It is believed that Southampton are expected to stick to their guns, which will see them keep their current wage structure in place. Bale would have to fit into this.

LIKELIHOOD RATING - 1/5 

WREXHAM

Could this be the most jaw-dropping twist of the market?

Wrexham co-owner Rob McElhenney has suggested he has a 'few ideas' over trying his luck to bring Bale to his club, despite them being in non-league.

It is a tongue-in-cheek comment from the It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia star, though, and not even the lofty ambitions he has are enough to snap up the winger.

Wrexham's owners Rob McElhenney (R) and Ryan Reynolds (L) have lofty ambitions for the side

Wrexham's owners Rob McElhenney (R) and Ryan Reynolds (L) have lofty ambitions for the side

The side narrowly missed out on promotion to League Two after losing to Grimsby in the play-offs and, at least for the time being, they will have to set their sights lower.

Joking about making an offer for Bale, McElhenney replied to a tweet asking where the talisman will end up next season, a playful post well received by supporters.

But all humour aside, this is a move that will not be happening. 

LIKELIHOOD RATING - 0/5

SWANSEA

Bale has been weighing up the possibility of joining another Welsh side in Swansea.

This is seemingly another non-starter considering his connections to Cardiff, but again, he has been linked with a shock move into the second tier of English football.

It would be a sensational coup for the Swans if they were able to turn Bale's head, although it is their Bluebird rivals who hold the advantage in this particular tussle.

Bale is set to ponder carefully over his next destination but, while Swansea cannot be ruled out just yet, their supporters shouldn't get excited over this blockbuster.

LIKELIHOOD RATING - 1/5 

Bale is weighing up heading back to his homeland, but Swansea are currently an outside shot

Bale is weighing up heading back to his homeland, but Swansea are currently an outside shot

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