BBC Sports Personality 2014 contender: Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale
"Gareth is a future Ballon d'Or winner, I would stake my life on it." - John Hartson on Gareth Bale

"I think he's up there as one of the best four or five players in the world" - John Hartson on fellow Welshman Gareth Bale.

Bale kicks off our series of profiles in the run-up to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award on 14 December, as we focus on one of the 10 shortlisted contenders each day.

Year in a nutshell

  • Shrugged off £85m price tag as world's most expensive footballer during dazzling debut season at Real Madrid
  • Former Southampton and Tottenham player clocked up 22 goals and 16 assists in 2013-2014 season
  • Netted winning goal in Copa del Rey final; first Welshman to score in a European Cup/Champions League final
  • Helped Real win 'La Decima' - a historic 10th European title. Named Welsh footballer of the year for record fourth time
Gareth Bale playing for Wales
Bale went to the same school as Welsh rugby union captain Sam Warburton

The inside track on Gareth Bale

Former Arsenal, West Ham, Celtic and Wales striker John Hartson gives his thoughts on 25-year-old compatriot Bale.

"I class him as a little bit of a freak of nature. He's an incredible specimen - he's just so explosive as a player," he said.

"He's got a gazelle-like stride, blistering pace, can pick people out with his left foot, he can score goals, and I think he's up there as one of the best four or five players in the world. Gareth is a future Ballon d'Or winner, I would stake my life on it.

Sports Personality 2014 contender: Gareth Bale

"I can't speak highly enough of him and it's brilliant to see how committed he is to Wales. He missed five games for Real Madrid before a little cameo, then played 90 minutes for his country in Belgium.

"He's a great character and doesn't have this big entourage or hangers on. I have the same advisers and for me he is a wise, level-headed young man.

"You see the best of him when he's in the dining room with the other players having a giggle. He just wants to be one of the guys.

"He's a really humble man and doesn't do things for show, although I'm a bit gutted he won a fourth Welsh player of the year award as me and Mark Hughes were tied with him on three each!"

Four facts about Gareth Bale
Attended Whitchurch High School in Cardiff, alongside Welsh rugby union captain Sam Warburton. Met his girlfriend Emma Rhys-Jones there. The couple have a two-year-old daughter, Alba Violet.Bale, who earns an estimated £15m-a-year salary at Real Madrid, has had his 'heart hands' goal celebration trademarked by the Intellectual Property Office.
Was once considered a curse for Tottenham after his £7m move in 2007. Played 24 Premier League matches across two years, two months and two weeks before finishing on the winning side, in the 5-0 win over Burnley.He has developed quite a taste for the Spanish dry-cured ham jamon, and says he is "obsessed" with it. But he is said to miss British chocolate, English teabags and Nando's.

John Hartson was talking to BBC Sport's Frank Keogh