By Jay Jaffa
Andre Villa-Boas spoke in the wake of Tottenham’s dominant 4-0 over Aston Villa on Wednesday evening that Gareth Bale was enjoying his best football thanks to “an excellent moment of his professional and personal life”. While true – the Welshman’s mesmeric hat-trick, his first in the Premier League, capped his best display of the campaign – it leaves those at White Hart Lane in an unusual situation.
Very few observers expect Bale to reside in north London for many more years – indeed, if Tottenham fail to qualify for the Champions League this season there is every chance he will be flogged in the summer. It can and should be a depressing scenario but the winger’s fine form give cause to celebrate Bale the footballer while he is still roaming from the left flank and terrorising Premier League defences.
Still only 23 and recently a father, Bale has given just cause in his three years of prominence at Spurs to lay claim to being the greatest wideman the club have had. Better than the legendary Cliff Jones and David Ginola? High praise. And although Villas-Boas moved to all but rule out Europe’s elite clubs from prising Bale from the club, saying: “In England there are no release clauses and a player of this dimension has a market value that is not attainable for most other clubs,” it translates more to a January warning than an overall club policy.
To face facts, Daniel Levy the Spurs chairman, has previous in this regard. Primarily a businessman, Levy knows the market and has kept profit margins up thanks to a policy of signing young prospects, turning them into top-flight footballers and selling on for considerable profit.
The most recent summer was perhaps the biggest indicator that Tottenham are a selling club and it will not have gone unnoticed. A partnership struck up with Real Madrid as part of the Luka Modric transfer read not as an added bonus, but rather a further poke in the eye as images of Bale at the Bernabeu flooded the conscience. That on top of the revelation that Bale is ready to tell Tottenham that he wants to move to Real Madrid make for unhappy reading if you are a Spurs supporter.
Whatever happens in the summer months, it may be worth spending the rest of the season paying homage to Bale. His treble at Villa Park only confirmed suspicions that he is gliding into a spell of form and rhythm never previously seen. He now has 13 goals for club and country this season, three more than at this stage last year and one on top of the 12 that secured him the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award in 2010-11.
He has developed to the point that he can no longer simply be classified as a left-winger. All three strikes past Brad Guzan came from central positions and all inside the box. This is a player who has surpassed the expectations that anyone at Spurs had of him when he joined as a fresh faced kid from Southampton.
There is maturity about his play and composure in his on-camera moments. He has subconsciously developed into one of the club’s leaders, even captaining the team for the first time earlier this season. Bale, the brand, is growing – he has his own YouTube channel in which he previews games as well as introduces the viewer to segments of his private life. Everything about his growth is being carefully managed and although it is with one end game in sight, he is a credit to the club.
Without sounding too Harry Redknapp about this, Bale has never caused Tottenham a minute’s trouble. From his early struggle carrying an unwanted winless curse around the Spurs Lodge training ground, to his sporadic appearances at left-back, he remained focused. When his break came, Bale quickly moved from prospect to first-team dependable as he contributed heavily to Tottenham’s maiden qualification for the Champions League in 2009-10.
It all points to an easily manageable talent – quite the opposite of many of the game’s big names and stars. He may harbour ambitions of playing abroad and that may transpire in six months time, but you would be hard pressed to extract such nuggets of information from Bale directly.
For while he is in Tottenham colours, Bale seems determined to do all he can to push the club into the upper echelons of the Premier League – vital in a season in which the competition for the top four is so close. On current form, he is set to hit 25 goals this season, which would be a remarkable improvement – especially as many critics felt he would struggle as an inverted winger in Villas-Boas’ system.
As we know from the last 12 months though, Bale is determined to become a more rounded prospect than just a wideman. It follows back to his fascination with Ronaldo, a player he has long admired and followed.
There are similarities between the two as well; both joined Premier League clubs at the age of 17, both have been lauded for their almost manic preparation and commitment to training and both have been tarred with the diver brush.
But where Ronaldo stayed at Manchester United a year longer than expected, his goal return for club and country was significantly down on the previous year – with 25 strikes to 2007-08’s 46. Bale looks likely to buck the trend and further enhance his reputation.
The Portuguese superstar, now 27, left Old Trafford after six years. If Bale should leave White Hart Lane this summer, it will be his sixth and final season; do not be surprised if that is part of his thinking. Bale’s rise has been as rapid as a sprint down the left flank, with an arc as curved as a trademark cross, and while he remains at Tottenham defying anyone that thinks he cannot improve, Spurs supporters can bask in his brilliance – for it may not be on show too much longer.
Follow Jay Jaffa on