The last time Gareth Bale played a cup final in Cardiff he “ripped apart” schoolboy opponents three years older than him.
Over a decade on from that time when only a few dozen crowded the touchline, Wales international Bale is a global superstar and chasing his third Champions League triumph in four seasons at Real Madrid.
Claiming the hat-trick, from a personal perspective, could be the best win of the lot with Saturday’s final between Real and Juventus played out in Bale’s Cardiff backyard at the National Stadium of Wales.
But his former Whitchurch High School PE teacher Gwyn Morris still smiles at the memory of Bale’s farewell to schoolboy football.
It came in the Cardiff & Vale Senior Cup final as a 15-year-old Bale helped the school’s Under-18 first team deliver the trophy.
“Gareth’s fantastic ability to run at players was clear in his last game for the school,” Morris said.
“He just ripped them apart, the quality of the delivery, the way he attacked players, left foot, right foot.
“The players came off and said he was something special.”
Little more than a year after that cup final victory in his home city and Bale was making his Southampton debut at the age of 16 years and 275 days.
Bale had been spotted by Southampton scout Rod Ruddick at the age of nine and joined the club’s satellite academy in Bath.
A career in top-flight football beckoned, but Morris recalls a humble teenager who threw himself into various sports and showed his determination to succeed on muddy cross-country courses.
“He didn’t miss a cross-country and that’s hard for youngsters, mentally and physically,” Morris said.
“Those are tough conditions when it’s cold and wet in January and February.
“But he was a tremendous athlete, very fast over 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 metres. He seemed to have a motor for everything.
Goal Gareth Bale VS FCB di Final Copa Del Rey (16 April 2014) pic.twitter.com/s5uyNyYV7e— RMIndo1Video (@rmindo1videoo) October 20, 2016
“He would do any sport. Cross-country, athletics, hockey, rugby and football.
“I remember him playing rugby in year 11 when we were short of a full-back for the B team.
“He said ‘I’ll play sir’. I said ‘No, you can’t’ because I was thinking of his football. But he said ‘No I’ll play, you’re not playing short’.
“He had a lot of pride playing for the school, which was great for ourselves and I found very humbling.”
Bale, now 27, was part of an outstanding sporting year at Whitchurch as he was in the same group as British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton and Elliot Kear, the London Broncos and Wales rugby league player.
And Bale, Morris says, has not forgotten his roots as he has made visits to his old school and presented Tottenham and Real Madrid shirts to staff.
He even once had a kick-about with pupils on the football field where he once played.
“He’s always had his feet very much on the ground,” Morris said.
“It’s lovely to have Welsh role models for our kids, that they don’t have to look outside.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
The season has nearly drawn to a close and the transfer window, with all it’s chaos and mayhem, is going to open soon.
Rumours are gathering apace and we take a look at the latest stories doing the rounds in the media.
Arsene Wenger will be given £150 million (Dh705m) to spend this summer after agreeing a new two year deal at Arsenal.
According to the Daily Mirror, AC Milan striker Carlos Bacca, Leicester winger Riyad Mahrez and Monaco midfielder Thomas Lemar are all top targets for Wenger.
The Frenchman will also be given funds to hand new deals to Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez who are both entering the final year of their deals at the Emirates Stadium.
SPORT360 VERDICT: The Daily Mirror’s John Cross is not the most reliable of sources when it comes to Arsenal transfer targets but there can be no doubt Wenger needs to seriously make some big signings this summer.
To overturn their poor season last term, new additions throughout the squad will be needed and with his contract situation practically cleared up, it will allow him the opportunity to get to work right away.
Mahrez has asked to leave Leicester so that could be a straightforward switch while deals for Lemar and Bacca are a little more complicated.
Jurgen Klopp has made signing the Southampton defender his No1 priority this summer as he looks to overhaul a Liverpool defence which shipped in 42 goals last season – the most of the top-four sides.
It appears Van Dijk is interested in making the switch to Anfield with the Daily Mirror claiming they are in pole position to sign the £50m-rated (Dh235m) Netherlands player.
Liverpool are also reportedly ready to offer the 25-year-old a package worth £200,000-a-week (Dh900,000).
SPORT360 VERDICT: The lure of playing under Klopp, coupled with Champions League football next term should be enough to see Liverpool land their man.
Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City are all said to be chasing his signature but the Anfield outfit are at the front with Klopp desperate to make him his only centre-half signing this summer.
If Liverpool have the funds there’s every chance this deal gets done, although Southampton are likely to play hardball so it could be a protracted transfer.
After signing Dominic Solanke following his exit from Chelsea, Liverpool are set to raid the free market again with released Manchester City left-back next on their list, according to the Daily Mail.
The Reds are in the market for a full back with James Milner converted into a defender and operating on the left for the majority of last season.
With European football on the horizon, Klopp is eager to create competition across his squad after a distinct lack of depth hurt their campaign last term.
SPORT360 VERDICT: Available on a free transfer and offering plenty of experience, the 31-year-old is the ideal squad man for Klopp given their dearth of options at left-back last season.
They have reportedly offered the France international a two-year deal and it’s unlikely he’ll get a similar offer from any other English side with Champions League football to offer.
Seems like a no brainer for both parties at this stage.
Chelsea have inquired about the availability of the Bayern Munich defender with the newly-crowned Premier League champions set to miss out on Van Dijk.
Antonio Conte wants at least one new centre-back in this summer, so says the Daily Mail, and they exploring all possible avenues.
Boateng’s future at the Allianz Arena is up in the air after the arrival of Niklas Sule from Hoffenheim.
SPORT360 VERDICT: This is how the transfer rumour world is all interlinked. If Chelsea don’t sign Van Dijk with Liverpool favourites to sign him, then they will go after the Bayern Munich man.
That’s two separate rumours yet they are directly linked, it’s like transfer Inception. Anyway, despite an injury hit campaign, Boateng remains one of the best defenders in Europe it’s unlikely Bayern would be so willing to let someone of his pedigree depart.
With the season coming to a close, the transfer window is about to open.
Rumours are gathering apace and we take a look at the latest stories doing the rounds in the media.
Will any of the following deals happen?
Bayern Munich are in the market to freshen up their aging squad and are said to be interested in signing Chelsea star Willian.
A report from German publication Abendzeitung says the Brazilian would is valued at €50 million (Dh205m), which would make him their most expensive player ever, surpassing the €40m (Dh164m) paid Athletic Bilbao for Javi Martinez.
Manchester United are also interested in signing the midfielder.
SPORT360 VERDICT: With Arjen Robben (33) and Franck Ribery (34) both heading into their mid-30s, Bayern are in desperate need of refreshing their forward line.
Willian was a willing lieutenant from the bench last season but having only started 15 Premier League games under Antonio Conte, the Brazilian is deserving of more first-term action.
Bayern have both the financial clout and the attraction of competing for major trophies so if they can beat off Manchester United’s interest, this is a deal they could seal.
Willian: "#Chelsea are back in the CL next season and I'm looking forward to playing in it. We have to look to win it next year.“ [Standard]— Chelsea HQ 🏆 (@Chelsea_HQ) May 25, 2017
Real Madrid are running out of time in their bid to sign David De Gea with Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho keen to get his revamped squad ready for pre-season.
According to Diariogol, the United boss wants Raphael Varane as part of a deal which will see the Spanish goalkeeper go in the opposite direction.
Mourinho has also reportedly looked at Alvaro Morata as a potential makeweight in the transfer but Varane as emerged as his latest target.
SPORT360 VERDICT: Varane is not only one of the best young defenders in world football, he’s also viewed as a the natural heir to Sergio Ramos.
Real will be incredibly reluctant to part ways with the France international and will no doubt hope they can finally tie up a deal with De Gea without losing and of their key stars.
With Alexandre Lacazette set on a move to Atletico Madrid in the summer, Lyon have moved to replace the France striker by offering €12m (Dh49m) for Bayer Leverkusen frontman Javier Hernandez.
Chelsea’s Bertrand Traore is a target as well but RMC are saying the Mexican remains their chief target.
Hernandez became his country’s all-time leading goalscorer at the weekend, scoring his 47th goal in a 2-1 defeat to Croatia.
SPORT360 VERDICT: Considering how long he has been around, Hernandez is only 28 and is entering his prime. A natural goalscorer, he fits the bill for Lyon given the vacuum which will be left by Lacazette’s exit.
German publication Kicker have said the Ligue 1 side are yet to table a bid but if they are interested, it’s a deal which seems plausible.
Manchester United are in talks with with Inter Milan over a £36m bid for their Croatian midfielder Ivan Perisic, according to Sky Sports.
The versatile 28-year-old has been impressive in Serie A this season, scoring 11 goals in 38 games, and looks a perfect fit for Jose Mourinho’s hard-working midfield system.
With widespread reports that Mourinho visited Perisic in Zagreb recently, this could help to get the deal over the line by the middle of June.
SPORT360 VERDICT: Perisic is a fans’ favourite at the San Siro and Inter will want to do all they can to keep this season’s dream team together. However, the Croat is 28 and may not get another chance for a big move.