This week @AmyEustace ponders whether Gareth Bale is the man to save British football, and why he needs to stay in the Premier League.
The word ‘British’ used to simply denote origin, but in recent years it has taken on a strange, contemporary slant. Just ask Andy Murray – now, spoken in the context of anyone who has achieved great things in their field, ‘British’ tends to mean, ‘They’re not actually English, but we want you all to assume that they are so we can feel better about ourselves’. It’s a tag honourably bestowed on those that are so good the English would be happy to claim them – otherwise, they’re simply Welsh, Scottish, or, more rarely, Northern Irish.
On that logic, enter English football’s answer to Murray: Gareth Bale.
It’s been some time since the world has witnessed a football prodigy of his calibre emerge from England. Not, at least, since Wayne Rooney set the stage alight with whispers of ‘world-class’ for the first time since the English old guard (made up of the likes of Lampard, Gerrard, Terry, Cole and Fergie’s United ‘kids’) stamped their mark on the Premier League era.
Rooney and his predecessors were a boon for the English national team’s chances at re-establishing some form of international dominance (a patently false hope), but Bale, on the other hand, despite his potential for club greatness, will probably only ever strive towards qualification for international competition and stagnant mediocrity with Wales.
His importance for the reputation of the league, though, can’t be underestimated…even if there is no sight more cringe-worthy than a grown man making a heart with his hands at a TV camera.
At 23, the Welshman is already running out of space on his mantelpiece for individual honours and this season, he left various award ceremonies looking like Adele coming out of the Grammys. Named PFA Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and FWA Player of the Year (and that’s just the plaudits of 2012), Bale has won just about every domestic gong for personal achievement, but no winners medals to speak of for his club’s efforts. With Spurs having narrowly missed out on qualification, I suspect he’d trade it all for the opening violin strains of the Champions League anthem.
A meteoric acceleration in form over the past three seasons has seen the once average second-tier left-back turned sensational Premier League midfielder become the player on which all of Spurs’ hopes are now hinged. Who could have imagined, when he signed from Southampton in 2007, that an 18-year-old Welsh lad would be the key to their dream of establishing themselves as a top four side, and a force to be reckoned with in Europe to boot? Back then, the north London club were comfortable in the top half of the table but challenging somewhere in the middle for the last few UEFA League spots, while Bale was a fresh-faced, fast but flawed defender.
Tottenham’s Goal machine
Now, he’s the league’s hottest property. With a new, unrestrained role handed down to him by André Villas-Boas, Bale has scored many of his 26 goals this season as a sort of second-striker. Yet, even with 21 league goals from the man himself, Spurs finished the season a point shy of local rivals Arsenal, missing out on the Champions League spot that would most likely have made Bale’s extended stay in north London a sure thing.
His contribution has been sorely needed, with strike partners Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor clocking up woefully average seasons with just 23 between the pair. The effect of Bale’s scoring focus is that his creative input has been hampered – he managed just 4 league assists, compared with 11 last season, but in total he created 75 chances, placing him in the league’s top ten in terms of key passes.
“To play the way we have also but to miss out on our objective is very disappointing,” said the winger, and it must have struck a nerve to come so close and yet so far, after carrying a club squarely on his shoulders for the best part of the year.
Instead of humiliating Inter Milan right-backs in the Champions League as he is wont to do, Spurs will have to settle for being Europa League playmates with relegated Wigan. But Bale has a choice; he needn’t settle at all.
The Welshman has hinted heavily at staying at Spurs, and if that’s the decision he has made, then it’s daringly loyal, patient and sensible. Granted, at his age, he has plenty of years ahead of him to match his extensive list of personal honours with club trophies, and at least at Spurs he has a degree of certainty as to his place in the team – unlike his former teammate Luka Modric, who has found that perhaps the move from London to Madrid has involved a competition for places he was not quite prepared for.
Indeed, Real Madrid are one of the clubs who have apparently expressed interest in Bale – Sergio Ramos has described him as a ‘Real Madrid-quality signing’. A move there would mean a tussle for supremacy with Cristiano Ronaldo (if the Old Trafford homing call doesn’t prove irresistible). Bale may have evolved beyond the confines of his club and league in terms of reputation, but actively going toe-to-toe with the Portuguese forward and matching him in his perennial battle of one-upsmanship with Lionel Messi is about as likely as Tony Pulis replacing José Mourinho.
If Bale was to move elsewhere now, he’d open up a divergence of paths, some of which lead to true legendary status at a ridiculously young age, while others lead to the burning out of a very bright star indeed. The ‘one-man team’ label Spurs have been given has its obvious downsides, but for Bale the advantage is a squad built to serve his needs. A summer of retirements, sackings and moves has made Tottenham, manager-wise at least, one of the most stable clubs around. With a good summer of transfer market activity under their belt, they could more than close the narrow gap between them and the current top four.
England Europe the world
On the other hand, Bale could buck the trend of British players moving abroad after they’ve peaked and become one of the few to truly adapt to life on the continent, hammering down the accent á la Joey Barton. Instead of waiting around for Spurs to qualify for Europe’s top competition, he could give winning it a shot.
But this summer, in the absence of a major international competition to keep the anticipation at bay, the sense of unpredictability surrounding the coming Premier League season is mouth-watering. With so many stalwarts hanging up their boots (and hairdryers), who wouldn’t want to be around when the shit hits the figurative fan, and the English football hierarchy has its first real shake-up since the early 90s?
As Juan Mata put it earlier in the season, “Gareth is, right now, one of the best in the world. Not just in England, not just in Europe – in the world.”
The last thing the Premier League could use at the moment is the departure of a potential legend, and the inevitable dent it would make in Spurs’ competitiveness. Bale is the hero that the Premier League deserves, and he might just be exactly what it needs right now.
Can Bale guide Tottenham to Champions League football next season? Check out their odds for a top four finish here
The Europa League just got interesting
- The Europa League, up to around about the semi-final stage, has got to be the most tedious club competition in history, but it just got that bit more interesting. At present, it’s just the Champions League’s less good-looking, more attainable sister, however UEFA are expected to confirm today that from 2015 winning the competition will mean automatic qualification for a shot at the real prize the following season, without otherwise affecting the amount of places afforded to the top teams in a domestic league. Hopefully this will help Emmanuel Adebayor to distinguish between the two tournaments by something other than the theme music.
- Meanwhile in Argentina, not content with the usual fare of coins, beach balls and other miscellaneous objects, a disgruntled fan threw a set of dentures at Argentinos Juniors Coach Ricardo Lombardi during a match against Belgrano. Argentinos were losing 3-1 to Belgrano and are under serious threat of relegation. No wonder the fan was fed up to the back teeth…
Think before you ink
- Dortmund fans are great. Great, but also fully insane, like this one who had Jurgen Klopp’s open-mouthed face tattooed on his upper back. Unfortunately for him and his fellow supporters, a clairvoyant German elephant called Nelly has predicted that they will lose the final. Paul the Octopus is so 2010.