Gareth Bale is the best player at Euro 2016

The Welshman has been in a class of his own thus far in France

Gareth Bale prior to Wales’ Round of 16 matchup against Northern Ireland.

There’s this popular side-by-side picture of Gareth Bale that illustrates his cosmic physical transformation from his early years at Tottenham to present day.

The Welshman has always possessed extraterrestrial pace, but his sheer strength and bronco-like endurance has elevated him into a Ronaldo-esque sphere of fitness.

And when you mix that athletic ability with a world class skill set that is refined as ever, you have a firecracker of a player — someone who’s presence on the pitch is manifest; who’s greatest influence comes in the form of thunderous strikes marked by unpredictable flight paths; who’s ability to put on a show is innate.

While Bale’s role at Real Madrid is confined to the right wing, he has free reign to pop into whatever spaces he chooses when he’s wearing the dragon crest.

That freedom has allowed Bale to be a freelancer at Euro 2016. He’s taking a month-long break from his corporate gig in the Spanish capital to focus on a passion project — one where the compensation is pride and glory rather than a many-zeroed weekly wage.

And as soccer fans, we’re lucky to be watching Bale operate outside of his right touchline cubicle. His electrifying bursts forward are occurring all over the pitch; his pressing is never ending; his defensive tracking is contagious; and that’s even before mentioning he’s the tournament’s joint top-scorer (3) and the player whose completed the most dribbles (13).

But Bale’s impact shouldn’t be quantified. He’s the heart of the red dragon that has ignited Euro 2016 with its fiery, passionate and winning mentality. His stats will undoubtedly turn heads, but the deeper Wales advances into the tournament, the more his greatness will be accentuated.

Notes from the 1–0 win over Northern Ireland: Bale’s performance wasn’t as electrifying as his group stage showings — probably the result of a stagnant match — but he managed to produce one of the game’s few moments of class.

His 75th minute, low-but-beaming cross led to Gareth McAuley’s own goal. Although the assist wasn’t as showstopping as one of his signature free kicks, the precision cross epitomized Bale’s ability to make the most of the few opportunities he’s awarded throughout the course of a match.

Keep in mind: the passage of play before the goal was one of the rare moments when Bale found himself with more than a few yards of space to work with. And in true superstar fashion, he punished Northern Ireland for its lapse in concentration.

If we’ve learned one thing thus far at Euro 2016, it’s this: there’s no stopping Gareth Bale.

I’m a writer who doesn’t write — which is something I’m trying to change.

I’m a writer who doesn’t write — which is something I’m trying to change.