What Gareth Bale's retirement means for LAFC's transfer plans

The Gareth Bale Era of LAFC didn’t last very long, but it sure was memorable.

It ended with a Supporters’ Shield and an MLS Cup, with the latter trophy coming because of the Welsh star’s heroics. His thundering header in the MLS Cup finale against the Philadelphia Union saved LAFC and, ultimately, won them an MLS Cup.

Heading into the 2023 season, the hope was that there may be more to come from a star player that played under 400 minutes in an LAFC shirt. With Bale under contract for one more season, many expected him to return for one more go in MLS.

It didn’t happen. Bale announced on Monday that he is retiring, ending an illustrious, trophy-filled career that took him from England to Spain to LA. It also ends his MLS tenure fairly prematurely, having only played half a season after initially promising to stick around with LAFC for some time.

It’s obviously a blow for LAFC to lose Bale given the caliber of player he is. But, in truth, the club may be better off with the Wales star now off the books. They will now have plenty of freedom, and likely already have his replacement in-house.

Here’s a closer look at how LAFC will cope with Bale’s absence…

What does Bale’s exit mean for LAFC financially?

With Bale off the books, LAFC are now off the hook for a contract that was supposed to run through this summer.

The club got creative in signing Bale, and fellow European star Giorgio Chiellini, to relatively cheap deals, with neither taking up a Designated Player spot. Bale was expected to be bumped up to that designation this year, giving LAFC a maximum of three DPs and little roster flexibility to add top-end stars.

With Bale stepping away, though, the club will now have plenty of wiggle room after getting Bale for extremely cheap for his half-season in MLS.

Who will replace Bale?

In reality, Bale wasn’t a very big piece of LAFC’s attack even when he was on the team. Rather, he was deployed as a super sub, with both the club and player seemingly content to ease him into the team.

The reason behind that? The fact that LAFC is absolutely loaded in attack, and that will continue on into the 2023 season.

Carlos Vela, Dennis Bouanga and Chicho Arango are all back for 2023, giving LAFC a star-studded attacking trio. Vela’s powers have waned a bit, but he does remain one of the best in MLS. Arango has scored 30 goals in his two season in MLS while Bouanga, a midseason signing from Saint-Etienne, came alive in the MLS playoffs.

With those three leading the way, they’ll be just fine.

But the club has more than just that trio. 21-year-old rising star Mahala Opoku scored seven times last season and could take on an even bigger role. The club has also signed Croatian youth star Stipe Biuk for a fee reportedly around $5.5 million. Biuk, a 20-year-old-winger, was a nominee for the Golden Boy award and has been linked with European giants in the past.

And then there’s Cristian Tello, who joined late last season and could still return in 2023.

What could LAFC do in the transfer market?

In short, whatever they want. With that DP spot now available, LAFC have the flexibility to make a splash and add another big-game player to their MLS Cup-winning XI.

Do they go to the midfield after dealing Latif Blessing this offseason? That seems the most likely. Jose Cifuentes may not be long for MLS and the club can certainly use an outstanding central midfielder to reshape a group that already includes stars Kellyn Acosta and Ilie Sanchez.

They’re already looking pretty set in defense, especially with the signing of Aaron Long, although goalkeeper may be a concern with Maxime Crepeau out after his devastating MLS Cup final injury.

There’s also always the option that LAFC do bring in another big-name attacker, especially if the right one were to become available. The club has plenty of ambition and have always been willing to make a splash, so you can’t write off a big push for a big name either this month or in the summer.