Vern Cotter has resigned as Fiji head coach seven months ahead of the Rugby World Cup, saying he was "disappointed to be leaving".

Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) announced it had accepted Cotter's resignation, saying the former Scotland coach had chosen to go "with immediate effect due to personal reasons".

Fiji are due to face Wales, Australia, Portugal and Georgia in World Cup Pool C at the September-October tournament in France.

An FRU statement added: "FRU takes this opportunity to thank Vern Cotter for his services to Fiji Rugby and the Flying Fijians. FRU has begun the process to recruit a new Flying Fijians coach that will take the Team 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. FRU wishes Vern Cotter all the best in his future career."

In a press conference, team officials said a successor to 61-year-old Cotter would be brought in by the end of February.

New Zealander Cotter joined Fiji in January 2020, with a view to leading the team into the World Cup.

He said: "I feel the team has made some significant improvements over the last few years both on and off the field. I believe we built a great culture, which was testament to some good people working hard and enjoying each other's company and I'm disappointed to be leaving at this time."

Eddie Jones warned "I'm not the messiah" after starting his second spell as Australia head coach but believes they can win the Rugby World Cup.

Jones was sensationally appointed as Wallabies boss in early January after being sacked as England head coach.

He replaced Dave Rennie eight months before the World Cup starts in France, taking up a role he previously held between 2001 and 2005.

Jones signed a deal until 2027 and started work on Sunday, a day before his 63rd birthday.

The vastly experienced Jones is aiming high, but says he has no magic wand to wave as he strives to make Australia a force again.

He said during a press conference on Tuesday: "I'm thrilled to be back home in Australia and couldn't think of a better place to come back to than here in the heart of Sydney's grassroots.

"It's imperative we win the hearts and minds of young Australians and to get them playing rugby and supporting their national teams.

"I think I made the point that I'm not the messiah, everyone's in this together. Sometimes you just need someone to beat the drum.

"And that gets everyone walking a bit faster. And maybe that's the role at the moment. But as we go forward, it's going to be about everyone working together."

Jones expects his side to show "traditional Australian digger spirit" as they will require more than talent alone to win the World Cup.

"I reckon we've got to draw a line in the sand and where we've been and work out where we want to go ... then everyone needs to roll their sleeves up," the former Japan head coach said.

"We can't do it by ourselves. We need everyone in the rugby community to find a bit more, and they can. There's plenty of people who love rugby when the Wallabies win, so we're going to win, but we need them to maybe help start it."

He added: "There's plenty of talented players, but talent doesn't win World Cups.

"What wins World Cups and wins hearts of people are teams that play with that same spirit the Ellas [Mark, Glen and Gary Ella] had, being aggressive and playing with a certain panache.

"We want to play tough. You want to win those tight games by one or two points, and that's the traditional Australian digger spirit. We want that in the team."

Bernard Laporte resigned as president of the French Rugby Federation on Friday as his hopes of returning to power in time for the Rugby World Cup crumbled.

The former France head coach stepped back from his latest position with the federation (FFR) in December after being given a two-year suspended prison sentence and a €75,000 fine for corruption.

He denied wrongdoing and intends to appeal against his court punishments, which meant the FFR did not immediately oust Laporte and instead decided to render him effectively powerless pending the attempt to clear his name.

Sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera called for Laporte to go in December, however, and he chose to permanently step down in the wake of clubs this week voting against his choice of president-delegate, Patrick Buisson.

Around 2,000 clubs took part in the vote, with 51.06 per cent saying they did not approve of Laporte proposing Buisson for the interim role.

The Rugby World Cup gets under way in France in September, and Laporte, president since 2016, had appeared eager to be back in charge of the FFR by then.

Les Bleus won the Grand Slam last year, and Laporte departs just eight days before the 2023 Six Nations begins.

Reports said Laporte delivered news of his resignation to the FFR executive committee on Friday morning at a meeting in Marcoussis, on the outskirts of Paris.

Oudea-Castera later told reporters: "I can give you confirmation of the resignation of Bernard Laporte. I welcome this decision, it was necessary at the end of this consultation in which the clubs were massively mobilised.

"The ethics committee played its role of supervision in this time of consultation which went well with dignified debates. Bernard Laporte drew the conclusions, which is a good thing for French rugby, its values ​​and the future."

Laporte stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of World Rugby within hours of his conviction in December, which also saw him banned from rugby involvement for two years pending the outcome of any appeal.

Laporte was released without charge on Tuesday of this week after being detained as part of a tax fraud investigation.

His lawyer, Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi, told the AFP news agency that Laporte had "neither been accused of having defrauded nor of having received any money".

Gareth Southgate described the England manager job as "the greatest privilege" of his life and said he wanted to make sure he was "fresh and hungry" before committing to remain in the role after the Three Lions' World Cup exit.

A year-and-a-half on from reaching the Euro 2020 final on home turf, England were edged out 2-1 in the quarter-finals of Qatar 2022 by France.

The tournament nevertheless marked a turnaround in form for the Three Lions after a dismal Nations League campaign, underlining Southgate's record in his role.

But the former Middlesbrough boss acknowledged he needed time to ensure he made the right call in choosing to remain on board.

"I never want to be in a position where my presence is affecting the team in a negative way," he told BBC Sport.

"I didn't believe that was the case, but I just wanted a period after the World Cup to reflect and make sure that was still how it felt."

"Is it the right thing to keep taking this project on? I wanted to make sure I'm still fresh and hungry for that challenge. [It is] the greatest privilege of my life.

"The quality of performances and the progress that we're making [shows] the team [is] still improving. We're all gaining belief in what we're doing."

England face a banana-skin qualification pathway for Euro 2024, with defending champions Italy, Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta in their group.

The Three Lions will play the former two sides in March as they begin their campaign working towards next year's tournament in Germany.

French Rugby Federation (FFR) president Bernard Laporte was released without charge on Tuesday after being detained as part of a tax fraud investigation.

Laporte, who has been in office since 2016, was summoned by tax authorities earlier in the day.

However, the 58-year-old's lawyer Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi confirmed to AFP that he was later released.

"It is a case in which he is implicated for having been associated with rugby friends a long time ago," Versini-Campinchi said.

"He has neither been accused of having defrauded nor of having received any money."

Laporte stepped back from his role as FFR president in December after being given a two-year suspended prison sentence and a €75,000 fine for corruption.

The former France coach also stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of World Rugby within hours of the conviction and was banned from rugby involvement for two years.

He denied any wrongdoing and is to appeal against his court punishments. Consequently, the FFR has not ousted Laporte permanently at this stage as he bids to clear his name.

Tuesday's development came as around 2,000 French rugby clubs voted on whether to accept the appointment of interim FFR president Patrick Buisson.

"It's perfectly scandalous the prosecutors have chosen the date of Patrick Buisson's election for the questioning and that the disclosure of this questioning was made on the same day," Versini-Campinchi added.

France are due to host the Rugby World Cup in September.

Fernando Santos has been appointed Poland head coach until 2026 following the end of his tenure with Portugal.

Santos, 68, was in charge of the Selecao for over eight years and guided them to success at Euro 2016 and the inaugural Nations League in 2019.

Despite those trophies, Portugal fans had become frustrated with the style of football Santos' team played in recent years, with there being a perception of him underachieving given the wealth of talent at his disposal.

Santos' Portugal contract was not due to expire until after Euro 2024, but he was removed from his role after the World Cup quarter-final defeat to Morocco last month.

Roberto Martinez has since replaced him.

Santos has not wasted much time in taking a new job either, however, with Poland his third international position in succession after also coaching Greece for four years prior to taking over Portugal.

He will be only Poland's third non-native head coach after Portuguese compatriot Paulo Sousa, who had a brief spell in charge in 2021, and Leo Beenhakker.

Polish Football Association (PZPN) president Cezary Kulesza had essentially confirmed the hiring on Monday when he posted a photo of himself with Santos, the caption announcing a press conference for the following day.

Santos' first goal will be to secure Poland's qualification for a fourth successive appearance at the European Championship, with the 2024 edition to take place in neighbouring Germany.

He will then be tasked with leading Poland to the 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the United States, after which his contract is due to end.

Kurtley Beale has been stood down by Rugby Australia after he was charged over an alleged sexual assault.

The NSW Waratahs back was arrested by police over reports a 28-year-old woman was assaulted in a Sydney pub on December 17.

Beale, a 95-cap Wallabies veteran, was taken into custody after he was stopped in Kingsford on Friday by authorities.

"Detectives from Eastern Suburbs Police Area Command took carriage of the matter and commenced an investigation under Strike Force Titheradge," read a police statement.

"He was taken to Waverley Police Station and charged with two counts of sexually touch another person without consent, incite another to sexually touch them without consent and sexual intercourse without consent.

"The man was refused bail to appear before Parramatta Bail Court tomorrow [on Saturday]."

In a statement of their own, Rugby Australia said Beale has been suspended from all forms of rugby until the conclusion of legal proceedings and its own investigations.

"This step follows Mr Beale’s arrest and subsequent charge with serious criminal offences, and is in line with Rugby Australia’s professional player code of conduct," Rugby Australia added.

"The Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) has been informed of this development. As this remains a legal matter, there will be no further comment until the conclusion of these proceedings."

Beale made his Wallabies debut in 2009 and has gone on to make close to a century of appearances, including playing in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final.

He was included in a 44-man training squad by former coach Dave Rennie ahead of this year's World Cup, before the latter was replaced by Eddie Jones.

Eddie Jones has revealed he held talks with Australia while he was England head coach and is relishing a "great rivalry" with his former team.

Jones was sacked as England boss last month and has been replaced by Steve Borthwick, who was employed as the Australian's forwards coach with the Red Rose and his assistant during his Japan tenure.

The 62-year-old Jones this week sensationally returned for a second spell as Wallabies head coach, with Dave Rennie fired eight months before the Rugby World Cup starts in France.

Jones was due to end his England reign after the World Cup and had already spoken to Rugby Australia about the possibility of returning to his homeland prior to being shown the door by the Rugby Football Union (RFU).

"I don't know of anyone who doesn't think about their future," Jones, who said the talks were with a view to taking over once his England duties had ended, told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"I can't see how that is being disloyal or whatever people want to portray it as being."

Australia could face England at the quarter-final stage of the World Cup and Jones would welcome a reunion.

"I think the nice thing about playing against a team you have coached previously is that you've got these relationships with players and maybe with some staff," he said.

"It creates a really good rivalry. I enjoyed coaching against Australia and coaching against Michael Cheika, and I'll enjoy coaching against Steve Borthwick and England."

Eddie Jones will make an immediate impact on his return to Australia, for which "there was always writing on the wall", according to former England captain Chris Robshaw.

Jones was dismissed by England in December but replaced Dave Rennie as the Wallabies' coach on Sunday, taking up a role he previously held between 2001 and 2005.

Defeats in November to France, Ireland and particularly Italy proved the final straw for New Zealander Rennie, paving the way for Jones to return in time for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The Australian was in charge when the Wallabies lost to England in the 2003 World Cup final, and Robshaw always expected Jones to return in a bid to complete unfinished business.

Speaking on behalf of Sage, powering the Smart Ball at the Six Nations, Robshaw told Stats Perform: "He was a proud Australian man and I think there was always writing on the wall that one day he will be back in Australia coaching.

"They're in a bit of a tough place in terms of their confidence. They had a tough tour in England, and it's no doubt he'll be able to go and shake things up and have an immediate impact.

"It is his man-management, which is brilliant, and his ability to get the best out of people because they have a good team and they have some good players.

"But how do you turn it around quickly and generally? That's all kind of up in the air."

Jones will aim for glory at the World Cup in September, having led both Australia and England – in 2019 – to the final as well as defeating South Africa with underdogs Japan in 2015.

Former British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton believes Jones wants to be on the biggest stage to shine, as does Warren Gatland, who made a similar return to retake the role as Wales coach.

Warburton said: "I like him, and at least in the same way as Warren [Gatland], they're international coaches. They need that international kick.

"I can't imagine Eddie being a club coach anymore, same with Warren. I think Warren wanted to just be back in the international helm and Eddie wants to be back in the international helm.

"In front of 80,000 people, he will turn to a press conference of people talking about pressure, he'll be laughing inside, he wouldn't be doing the job this long at such a high level if he didn't truly love it.

"I really respect him. He's gone straight back into the deep end with international rugby with Australia, and he's got a World Cup; that's what he needs to thrive, so it is not really surprising.

"If you said in the Autumn Series, Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones are going to clash somewhere in the World Cup, then you'd be thinking how was that going to be. 

"I don't think anyone would have thought it would have been Wales and Australia. Compared to where we were three months ago, it is a great story, and it's going to develop a great subplot going into the group stage of the World Cup."

Gregor Townsend knows the upcoming Six Nations could be his last in charge of Scotland as he revealed he has been contacted by France.

Townsend named his Six Nations squad on Tuesday with four uncapped players included in the 40-man selection.

That includes Ben Healy, who has qualified to play for Scotland through his mother, as well as Ruaridh McConnochie, who has previously played for England.

The 49-year-old has been in charge of Scotland since 2017, but his contract is up after this year's Rugby World Cup in France, which starts in September.

Townsend told reporters he would like clarity on his situation before the tournament begins but knows he might "have to wait and see".

"No discussions have been had, and I don't see them taking place until after the Six Nations," he added.

When asked if this could be his last Six Nations as Scotland coach, Townsend replied: "I'm not contracted beyond this year, so of course."

Meanwhile, Townsend confirmed reports he had been contacted over the possibility of joining France's set-up in the wake of the World Cup. 

"I did get a contact from France," he said. "It was just an initial enquiry and there was nothing further from that because we obviously play France in the Six Nations, so I didn't want to talk any further with them about that."

Scotland take on England at Twickenham in their opening Six Nations match on February 4.

Scotland's Six Nations squad

Forwards: Ewan Ashman, Josh Bayliss, Simon Berghan, Jamie Bhatti, Fraser Brown, Dave Cherry, Andy Christie, Luke Crosbie, Jack Dempsey, Matt Fagerson, Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Cameron Henderson, WP Nel, Jamie Ritchie (captain), Pierre Schoeman, Javan Sebastian, Sam Skinner, Rory Sutherland, George Turner, Hamish Watson.

Backs: Chris Harris, Ben Healy, Stuart Hogg, George Horne, Huw Jones, Blair Kinghorn, Sean Maitland, Ruaridh McConnochie, Stafford McDowell, Ali Price, Cameron Redpath, Finn Russell, Ollie Smith, Kyle Steyn, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Ben White.

Eddie Jones will ignore Rugby Football Union (RFU) administrators if his Australia side face England at the World Cup in France this year.

Jones was sacked as England head coach last month and has been replaced by his former assistant Steve Borthwick.

The 62-year-old has not had long to wait for another opportunity, as he was sensationally appointed for a second spell in charge of the Wallabies on Monday.

Jones was given a long-term deal by Rugby Australia to take over from fired New Zealander Dave Rennie.

Australia and the Red Rose could meet at the quarter-final stage of a World Cup that starts on October 8 and Jones will be selective over who he talks to if that showdown comes to fruition.

"I'm not thinking about England," Jones told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"The most important thing is to get Australia playing really well and consistently well.

"If we happen to meet England on the way, well and good. I might have a conversation with some of the players and not with the administration. Then we'll get on with the battle.

"Maybe age helps but once the chapter closes, it closes."

 

Eddie Jones has made a sensational return to rugby as head coach of Australia after Dave Rennie was sacked.

Dismissed as England boss in December, with Steve Borthwick brought in as his replacement ahead of the Rugby World Cup this year, Jones has taken the Wallabies job for a second time. 

Australia ditched Dave Rennie to create the vacancy, with Jones describing his return to the job he previously held from 2001 to 2005 as "a wonderful opportunity".

Rugby Australia said Jones has committed until 2027, meaning his contract covers two World Cups and the 2025 British and Irish Lions tour.

The 62-year-old, who was in charge of the Australia side that lost to England in the 2003 World Cup final, will formally start his second tenure on January 29.

Jones said: "It is a wonderful opportunity for me to be able to come home to Australia and lead my nation to a Rugby World Cup.

"It is going to be an immense period for Australian Rugby – as a proud Australian, it is a great honour to be able to come home and lead the national team during these years.

"The Wallabies squad is a really talented group of players with good depth – if we can have everyone fit and healthy going into the World Cup this year, I am confident that we can go to France and break the 24-year drought of winning the Rugby World Cup.

"I am really looking forward to getting back home and getting stuck in."

Defeats in November to France, Ireland and particularly Italy sealed Rennie's fate. His team also beat Wales and Scotland on their Northern Hemisphere tour, but those victories were not enough to save his job. 

New Zealander Rennie had three years as head coach, and Rugby Australia said there had been "positive steps" taken under his leadership.

It was decided, however, that with Jones available for hire, Australia could not afford to stand by and see someone else move for him.

Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan described the appointment as "a major coup", labelling Jones, who has also coached Japan, as "the best coach in the world".

"Eddie's deep understanding of our rugby system and knowledge of our player group and pathways will lift the team to the next level," McLennan said.

"Eddie instinctively understands the Australian way of playing rugby – this represents an opportunity to secure a coach of immense expertise and experience at the biggest competitions, and we did not want to miss it."

Jones will also oversee the development of Australia's women's programme, with the Wallaroos looking to build on a quarter-final appearance at last year's World Cup.

Jude Bellingham has got over the disappointment of England's World Cup quarter-final defeat to France but still wonders what might have been.

The 19-year-old midfielder had an impressive tournament in Qatar before England's 2-1 defeat at the hands of the eventual runners-up, with Three Lions captain Harry Kane both scoring and missing a penalty.

Ahead of his return to domestic action with Borussia Dortmund, Bellingham spoke to the Bundesliga club's media and opened up on his feelings following the World Cup.

"You come to terms with it pretty quickly, to be honest, but I still think about the game at times," he said. "There was an instance in training where I had a shot and I thought: 'That was just like the one that I had in the France game', and if I put it more to the left, would we have gone through?

"I was involved in the first penalty where I flicked it to Bukayo [Saka], and the second one, when I put the pass behind to Mason [Mount] and I always think: 'What if I'd just put it on Mason's toe and he went and scored?' And then there would have been no second penalty.

"You overthink things, but I think you come to terms with it quickly because you can't change it, whether you like it or not. Then you're on the plane home and think: 'We gave everything.'

"We had a tournament that the country can be proud of. We put up a really strong fight against one of the best teams in the world. We went out narrowly and you learn to kind of use it as ammunition for the next ones, and I think that's how I've taken it."

Despite ultimate disappointment at the last-eight stage, Bellingham was pleased with his first World Cup experience, which helped secure his inclusion in the 14-man shortlist for 2022's The Best FIFA Men's Player award.

"I think it was really good. I was really proud of it," he added.

"But you can't be satisfied because you go with the intention of winning it, and I really did feel like we had the chance to, especially after we got through against Senegal [in the last 16] and you realise there's only three more games. Had we beaten France and gone through, who knows what can happen?

"I personally enjoyed the kind of pressure of the games and the responsibility that the manager [Gareth Southgate] gave me... I think you create the pressure yourself through lack of preparation and confidence.

"Luckily, I don't lack confidence and I always try and stay prepared. I'm always quite confident that I can achieve the things I want to achieve."

Dortmund's season does not resume until January 22, over a month after the World Cup ended, and Bellingham is grateful for the rest.

"After the World Cup I was just drained physically, and I said to myself: 'I want to have a nice long rest'," he said. "But then about two weeks into it, I thought: 'Nah, nah, I need to go back in and get to work and finally be back,' and I can't wait to get going again."

Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe are among the leading candidates for The Best FIFA Men's Player award after unsurprisingly being named on the 14-strong list of nominees on Thursday.

FIFA's awards ceremony will take place on February 27 and recognise the sport's high achievers from 2022 across several categories, with The Best FIFA Men's Player prize being the headline attraction.

Messi, who won the 2019 award and came a close second to Robert Lewandowski for 2021, will be the firm favourite after inspiring Argentina to World Cup success.

It was the Albiceleste's first such title since 1986, and Messi played a crucial role in the triumph as Argentina beat France on penalties after a 3-3 draw last month.

Messi scored five goals and set up another three to win himself the Golden Ball, and he nearly took home the Golden Boot as well.

Of course, his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Kylian Mbappe won the latter prize thanks to his hat-trick against Argentina in the dramatic final, and he will likely be Messi's closest rival.

Had it not been a World Cup year, Manchester City's Erling Haaland might have fancied his chances of staking a claim after a sensational start to life in the Premier League.

Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema is among the nominees and may be expecting a top-three finish after carrying Real Madrid to another Champions League crown, though his lack of World Cup involvement could prove detrimental.

Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti is in the running for The Best FIFA Men's Coach gong, though Argentina's Lionel Scaloni will likely be the favourite of the five-man shortlist.

Argentina are also represented in The Best FIFA Men's Goalkeeper category by Emiliano Martinez among the five nominees.

For the women's prizes, Euro 2022 champions England have several nominations.

Beth Mead, Keira Walsh and Leah Williamson are all up for the players' award; Sarina Wiegman will be the favourite for the coaches' accolade; and Mary Earps is in contention to be named The Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper.

The voting process will involve international captains and coaches, journalists, and fans selecting their winners in the various categories.

Voting closes on February 3 and FIFA will announce three finalists from each section thereafter.

NOMINATIONS

The Best FIFA Men's Player
Julian Alvarez (Argentina/River Plate/Manchester City)
Jude Bellingham (England/Borussia Dortmund) 
Karim Benzema (France/Real Madrid) 
Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium/Manchester City)
Erling Haaland (Norway/ Borussia Dortmund/Manchester City)
Achraf Hakimi (Morocco/Paris Saint-Germain) 
Robert Lewandowski (Poland/Bayern Munich/Barcelona)
Sadio Mane (Senegal/Liverpool/Bayern Munich)
Kylian Mbappe (France/Paris Saint-Germain)
Lionel Messi (Argentina/Paris Saint-Germain)
Luka Modric (Croatia/Real Madrid)
Neymar (Brazil/Paris Saint-Germain)
Mohamed Salah (Egypt/Liverpool) 
Vinicius Junior (Brazil/Real Madrid)

The Best FIFA Men's Coach
Carlo Ancelotti (Italy/Real Madrid)
Didier Deschamps (France/French National Team)
Pep Guardiola (Spain/Manchester City) 
Walid Regragui (Morocco/Wydad AC/Moroccan National Team)
Lionel Scaloni (Argentina/Argentinian National Team) 

The Best FIFA Men's Goalkeeper
Alisson Becker (Brazil/Liverpool) 
Yassine Bounou (Morocco/Sevilla)
Thibaut Courtois (Belgium/Real Madrid)
Ederson (Brazil/Manchester City)
Emiliano Martinez (Argentina/Aston Villa) 

The Best FIFA Women's Player: 
Aitana Bonmatí (Spain/Barcelona)
Debinha (Brazil/North Carolina Courage)
Jessie Fleming (Canada/Chelsea)
Ada Hegerberg (Norway/Lyon)
Sam Kerr (Australia/Chelsea)
Beth Mead (England/Arsenal)
Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands/Arsenal)
Alex Morgan (United States/Orlando Pride/San Diego Wave)
Lena Oberdorf (Germany/Wolfsburg)
Alexandra Popp (Germany/Wolfsburg)
Alexia Putellas (Spain/Barcelona)
Wendie Renard (France/Lyon)
Keira Walsh (England/Manchester City/Barcelona)
Leah Williamson (England/Arsenal)

The Best FIFA Women's Coach
Sonia Bompastor (France/Lyon) 
Emma Hayes (England/Chelsea)
Bev Priestman (England/Canadian National Team)
Pia Sundhage (Sweden/Brazilian National Team)
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg (Germany/German National Team)
Sarina Wiegman (Netherlands / English National Team)

The Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper
Ann-Katrin Berger (Germany/Chelsea Women)
Mary Earps (England/Manchester United) 
Christiane Endler (Chile/Lyon)
Merle Frohms (Germany/Eintracht Frankfurt /Wolfsburg)
Alyssa Naeher (United States/Chicago Red Stars)
Sandra Panos Garca-Villamil (Spain/Barcelona)

Gareth Bale's decision to retire from professional football comes at the "right time", according to Wales manager Rob Page.

Bale announced on Monday he had decided to call time on a glorious career, having finally been able to represent his country at the World Cup.

Once the most expensive player of all time when he made the move to Real Madrid from Tottenham, Bale won everything possible during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu, including five Champions League titles – only Paco Gento (six) has more (Champions League/European Cup).

While some might have been surprised by Bale's decision given he is still only 33, his decline over the past few years – partly due to injuries – has been significant, as evidenced by his MLS struggles with Los Angeles FC and a lack of impact for Wales at Qatar 2022.

Page was not among those caught off guard by the news.

"Gareth messaged to say he needed a conversation," Page told BBC Radio Wales.

"I knew it was something significant, but when he announced it to me, it didn't come as a complete surprise.

"I told him I think it's the right time to bow out. You've just scored in a World Cup and got everything on your CV, what you've done for this country is unbelievable."

Wales' next fixtures are at the end of March when they face Croatia and Latvia to begin their Euro 2024 qualification campaign.

Page had planned to include Bale in his squad, though he recognised the World Cup did highlight certain inadequacies.

"He would have had a part to play," Page continued. "The roles might have changed slightly. Would he be able to play 90 minutes back to back?

"Lessons have been learned from Qatar, the athleticism every team had out there. It's too big an ask probably for him, he might have been an impact player coming off the bench.

"There's a mixture of emotions for me. I'm excited now because it's an opportunity to get some of the young ones through – players like Brennan Johnson to take the opportunity and step up to the plate – and get the next Gareth Bale.

"But there's also a hint of sadness because it's the last time we'll see Gareth Bale putting a pair of boots on for Wales."

But that is not to say Bale will be gone for good.

It remains to be seen what he goes on to do now he is not playing, but Page is eager to get Bale involved in the Wales setup again.

"I would love him still to be involved in some capacity, what that role is don't know yet," he said.

"It's a big adjustment for him, going into a normalish life, but we'll have another conversation with him in a few weeks.

"We'll make a plan moving forward because he's got so much to offer in a changing room and hotel environment.

"His presence is something I would be really keen on, to keep him involved, but I'll leave it up to Gareth and what suits him and his family.

"You've seen Belgium do it with Thierry Henry. Ex-players stepping up, whether it's a coaching role, an ambassadorial role, or being part of a committee making decisions.

"I'm sure the FAW [Football Association of Wales] would also be keen to keep Gareth involved in some capacity."

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