Gareth Bale: The real player and man by those who know him best

Gareth Bale should win 100th Wales cap against Belarus in Cardiff's World Cup qualifier
World Cup 2022 qualification: Wales v Belarus Venue, Cardiff City Stadium Date and Time: Saturday 13 November Kick-off at 19:45 GMT. Coverage: Live commentary via BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru. Plus, live score updates and text on the BBC Sport app and website.

Gareth Bale is on the brink of joining a select group of internationals from Wales football.

If he makes his 100th appearance wearing a Wales shirt during Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Belarus, he will be following in the footsteps Jess Fishlock and Sophie Ingle.

This will be another milestone in the career of a Welsh sporting legend who enjoys a truly international status.

Bale was a former student at Whitchurch High School in Cardiff, and a youngster in the Cardiff Civil Service. His potential was immediately recognized by Southampton, prompting Spurs in 2007 to pay PS10m.

Bale was so successful there that he became a Real Madrid "Galactico" when the Spanish giants paid a world record PS85m in September 2013.

Since then, he has amassed a staggering trophy collection, including four Champions League crowns. Two La Liga titles. A Copa Del Rey. Three Club World Cup medals. He also helped Real win twice the European Super Cup.

John Toshack was Wales' youngest debutant when he participated in the friendly win against Trinidad and Tobago in Graz in 2006. He was 16 years, 315 days old.

Bale has delivered every time his country needs him.

Wales reached Euro 2016 with seven qualifying goals, where they reached the semi finals in their first major tournament finals in 58 years.

His current goal total is 36. He has now surpassed Ian Rush's previous record, 28.

Bale, the Wales captain, leader, and talisman wants to lead his country to the World Cup finals, November 2022.

As Bale approaches his milestone, his former Whitchurch High student Geraint Thomas and co-centurions Gunter, his long-time team-mate, and Ingle, ex-Wales striker Rob Earnshaw, and Toshack (who also managed Real Madrid), share their thoughts with BBC Sport Wales.

Rob Earnshaw, ex-Scorer for Wales, 58 caps, 16 goals

"I only remember Gareth's debut a few days before the game. As a group, we went out for lunch and the new faces had the opportunity to sing in front of the group.

"One by one, they stood up, nervously because they had to sing. Although I don't recall what Gareth sang, it was not very good. His pitching ability and talent was undoubtedly superior to his voice.

He was shy when he was first introduced to the team. He was shy when we first met him on the pitch. When we handed him the ball, I realized that he had something to offer.

"Top players are known for their speed, their movement, their quickness of thought and how their technique shines through. His technique and touch were spot on, as well as his awareness.

Hennessey says Bale is "absolutely incredible".

"You could give him a ball and he began to dribble. You started to see what you have seen over the years: dribbling past other players with speed, sharpness and agility.

"After the first few training sessions, I thought that he had some understanding but you're still cautious because he's a young child and you wonder: 'Can they turn it into a game?

"When he played Trinidad and Tobago, I knew immediately that he would be a great player. He was just as confident on the stage as he had been in training sessions.

"Sometimes, young players are anxious when they go on the pitch. They think about the crowd and the people they are playing against. Gareth didn't think about it. It was just a matter of "Give me the ball, and I'm going to dribble," and "Give me my run." This is where you want to be.

"Later, he went down to the left and pulled it back for me to score. This is his first assist for Wales.

It is impossible to reach 100 caps. It is amazing to get one cap for your national team. You stand up and sing the national anthem, then you wear the shirt. It is truly amazing to do it again and again until you reach 100.

"Gareth has been a consistent and long-lasting player. He is a star, has scored many goals and has made a huge impact many times. It was a joy to see a world-class talent with my own eyes, in my own team. It was truly an amazing experience.

"I would love for Gareth to play at the World Cup, and I know that he would also love that."

John Toshack, former manager of Real Madrid and Wales

"I can still remember Brian Flynn, the Wales age-group coach at that time, coming to me and telling me: 'I have another one. Gareth Bale will be a great one.

"I went to Southampton to watch him play, and it was obvious that he was a great talent in a club that knew what they were doing.

"I believe that the fact that I was only 16 when I made my debut in the club helped a lot. It wasn't a problem for me.

"From the very first day he arrived with us, he stood apart in training sessions and stayed behind to practice free-kicks, shooting, and other skills. It would have been difficult to miss him.

"He is one of the most talented players I have ever worked alongside and I have had the opportunity to work with some really great players from different parts of the world.

Real Madrid had people who criticised him for not doing enough. He didn't have to do it because he could win a match by doing half as much as the rest.

"Gareth was one of the most talented players I've ever worked with."

"I can recall at Liverpool that if anyone wanted to take a dip or have a go at us, we would reply by saying: Show us your medals. Gareth doesn't really need to say much else.

He was a better player because he moved to Real Madrid. He would have been great if he hadn't gone to Real Madrid, but it is a major milestone for any player.

"It is a great advertisement for us all that he went to the Bernabeu and played as many times as he did, and was a huge success.

"Gareth was so well-known in Madrid that he was invited to pitch. There was a lot of excitement. You felt that something was going to happen when he received the ball. But it's one thing to reach the top, and the other to stay there.

"Gareth achieved his goals through hard work, determination, skill and ability. Once he was there, he maintained it and set himself important goals.

"Maybe Gareth wasn't as happy in front the cameras early on. He did his talking on field, and no one could doubt his importance and the value he brought to Real Madrid. Real has only awarded anything to him as a Welshman.

"When you look back at the history of Wales, there has always been a standout player. John Charles was part of the 1958 World Cup team. We also had Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Mark Hughes. We've always had top-class people.

"Gareth is one of the greatest, if certainly not the best. John Charles will forever be my favorite player on a football pitch because of his versatility... but Gareth is amazing.

It is easy to list 100 internationals but it is much more difficult to actually do it. I can recall a group of young players, including Gareth and Chris Gunter, coming through together.

"I believe they were roommates. They have been together all over Europe with Wales, and the pair of them is a credit to their profession as well as the Wales national soccer team."

Chris Gunter - Wales defender, 106 caps

"It feels as if we have been together since the first-team environment at Tottenham or Wales.

He is a great laugher off the pitch. He enjoys being with his friends. He seems to have the same friends now.

"When he's in a football environment with people that he knows for years, I believe he would consider us his mates."

"On the pitch, everything has changed for him, but off it, when he is around you day to day, you wouldn't know that he has had the success and career he has.

His game has evolved and changed since his first day as a left-back. He will find a way to impact the game wherever he is.

"He does things not many people could do, such as creating something out of nothing, scoring a goal, or going on a scrum and getting the crowd up.

"This is a truly exceptional talent. You would almost feel sorry that the opposition is defending him because he can do things you cannot defend against when he's in good form.

"For many years, it may have been taken for granted. You're always expecting him affect the game and that has more often been the case for Wales.

"Off the pitch Gareth is the exact same when it comes to having a good time. He enjoys being with his friends.

"Since he left Wales for Real Madrid, there has been a lot of talk about him. It has not affected his performance in Wales. His career shows that he is able to handle the attention and pressure without any problems.

"When we are talking about elite players, the truly good ones, they love being the center of attention. They feel like a major part of the team's success. He enjoys being a leader, as evidenced by the results and statistics.

"He has now reached 100 caps, despite times when you haven't seen him for a while due to injury.

"If you asked people to pick their Gareth Bale moment, goal, or performance, you'd probably get many different answers. This is a testament to his dedication and hard work.

Fans want to see a star performer, and it is huge.

"When he gets there, I'm sure he will be proud. When he looks back at football, 100 caps will be a big deal for him.

"He would have had to be the greatest Welsh player based on what I have seen and the things that he has done. It was a privilege to be on the same pitch as him sometimes.

"Gareth has been the leader of the country, carrying the weight pretty much along with Aaron Ramsey.

"We could go back in 100 years, and you probably won’t find a Welshman that has achieved as much in the game in terms of all his records and the trophies won.

"I don’t believe his goal record for Wales will ever be broken. He will likely add several more by the time he finishes. You can see that he is the greatest from everything you discuss.

"I hope that we all have fully appreciated the time we spent with him, watching him and supporting him.

"It is a great honor to have someone like him play for Wales. He still has so much more to do for Wales. Enjoy him, no matter how long he plays and pulls on the Welsh shirt.

Sophie Ingle - Wales captain, 110 caps

"Reaching 100 caps was a huge honour, and I know that the country will be proud."

"Hope we can get a sellout crowd for him, and get a great outcome for him.

It is incredible to only get one cap for your country, but it was impossible to get 100. There are now a few of you on that list. He will be very happy, I'm sure.

He was the one I heard about when he started to get into the Welsh setup. Although he is older than me, he was able to make an impact on Wales at an early age.

"Everybody knows Gareth Bale. He put Wales on the map.

There are many highlights. While he has been a great goal scorer for Wales, it is also about his passion. He understands how important it can be to wear this badge and play every game as if it were his last. He shows that every time he plays for Wales, I believe.

"I believe he can lead Wales towards the World Cup. You can see that the boys admire him when he is part of the team.

"He does everything he can to help the team every game and loves playing for Wales like we do. We hope they will be able to go on and earn the qualification."

Geraint Thomas - Tour de France winner 2018

"I didn’t see Gareth very often in school, but I heard all about this football wonder kid...and followed him in his career right from the beginning.

It's great to see him play for the national team. There was a clash of national teams and clubs in the past.

According to what you've read, footballers want to go to the World Cups, but qualifying seems to some to be more of a chore than an honor.

"But Gareth, I always got the impression that he wanted to return to Wales to represent our nation. He has done an amazing job leading the team.

It's amazing to see him achieve something so great. He is well-deserving of this honor and we hope he will continue to lead the team in the coming years."