Even in his quieter games, Gareth Bale seems to make a statement – and when he is on song, the statement is just mesmerising. The Welshman is putting together the best season of his short career, thriving in front of goal despite being the focus of every opponents’ game plan, and Tottenham are looking to ride his coat-tails all the way to an automatic Champions League spot.
Bale’s emergence continues to be one of the more incredible subplots of the past decade, given that, in the space of less than five years, he has transitioned from an underwhelming talent who took 24 games to register a win in a Tottenham shirt to a world class talent attracting the attention of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and others. As the Bale hype grows and grows, is it now fair to say that it is fully justified?
Based on the 2013 Bale, once it has been acknowledged that he is not at the same level as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, it is hard to grumble at any of the other praise or attention thrown the Welshman’s way. He has performed in the big games – a classy finish at Old Trafford, key goals against Arsenal and Inter – and continues to expand his game. He has improved in the air, increased his goal tally and adjusted to playing in a more central role at times to use his pace and dribbling to run at the heart of defences. Named Player of the Month for February, Bale is also a frontrunner for the end of season awards. He has been producing consistent performances for long enough now that it cannot be brushed off as a hot streak.
His team-mates do not hold back when describing his importance. "Words can’t describe how well he is playing", Scott Parker said. Jermain Defoe chimed in too, becoming the latest to draw the Bale-Ronaldo comparisons. While many will want to see a larger sample size before placing Bale among the top tier talents in the game, his catalogue of big performances make for a compelling case.
Tottenham fans are rightly enjoying their current run, which has the club sitting in third place despite a disappointing 3-2 loss at Liverpool this weekend. All the signs point to Andre Villas-Boas’ men hanging on to qualify for next season’s Champions League so long as their Europa League charge does not prove to be a distraction.
But once the season draws to a close, attention will turn to Bale’s future. Tottenham will no doubt be keeping in close contact with their star, knowing the lure of a move to a top Spanish club or even another of the Premier League’s elite. Manchester City, for instance, are likely to be active in the summer transfer market as, barring a miracle, they will have missed out on the two biggest prizes this season. What happens if an offer north of £50M falls into Tottenham’s lap?
For Villas-Boas to take Tottenham to the next level and truly challenge for the title, Bale must be the centrepiece. That means keeping him at White Hart Lane regardless of the offers that come flying in. The Welshman signed a four-year deal last summer and the club have to trust that the promise of Champions League football and a competitive salary is enough to keep him in North London for the long haul. For the sake of the English game, many would hope it is.
"I go to the Tottenham training ground a lot and Bale is very humble", said David Pleat, a man with strong White Hart Lane connections. "He is not ready to move abroad but I don’t think he will worry about the publicity his efforts are creating. I don’t think he will disappear for the mega bucks."
After signing his new deal last summer, Bale admitted: “The club is progressing and I want to be part of that, so it was great to get the deal done. I love the club and the fans and I want to play my part in trying to get us back into the Champions League – where we belong.”
Given that Bale is arguably the Premier League’s most exhilarating talent, neutrals across the country will be crossing their fingers that these words hold true. With the Welshman fully committed and with Arsenal and Chelsea struggling, Tottenham will have every chance of taking over London.
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