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Sep 302013
 

After losing his home debut against Atletico Madrid, Gareth Bale vows to keep on improving after his move to Real Madrid, and is keen to pay back the fans for their warm welcome.

“What I have to do is play a good game and continue improving,” he said. “I will prepare in the right way and try to help the team get the three points. I have to play better every day to pay back the affection the fans showed me on my debut.”

Aug 172013
 

He’s leaving, he’s not leaving; he wants to go, he doesn’t want to go; will they, won’t they? – as is the case every year, this year’s transfer window has its share of uncertainty and late surge in excitement with the season kicking off in less than a week. Here’s a look at the three biggest names linked with moves and the impact it will have on their respective clubs.

Luis Suarez

Amidst all the publicised support offered to Luis Suarez by Liverpool FC in the wake of the controversies he was involved in, they seemed to have overlooked the fact that a lot of the current footballers are mercenaries. I’m not condoning Suarez’s recent actions and statements in the media but the fans that supported him despite his flaws in ‘non-footballing matters’ must learn to accept that a player of his skill and quality will have ambitions of performing on the big stage. Sadly for Liverpool, they can’t offer that to Luis Suarez in terms of Champions League football, but Arsenal can.

As for Arsenal, a very expensive and highly controversial player might not be in the mould of a typical Arsene Wenger signing but Suarez is the exact type of player Arsenal needs. The club lacks an attacker who is willing to drop deep to receive the ball and make intelligent runs that drag central defenders out of their position (Van Persie, Henry and Bergkamp did this very well), which would enable other attackers like Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski to run into space and have a goal scoring opportunity.

If Suarez does move to Arsenal , this would be a massive dent to Liverpool’s hopes of Champions League qualification for next season. Given their current roster, it is hard to see where the goals will come from if their top scorer from last season with 30 goals in all competitions was to leave. Brendan Rodgers has to identify a suitable replacement rather than spending all his effort in making Suarez stay.

Wayne Rooney

No one is sure about the truth behind the Wayne Rooney saga. As per Sir Alex Ferguson, Rooney wanted to leave; the player himself has denied handing in a request; and David Moyes refuses to sell him. Many fans have had enough and the general sentiment is that there is enough cover and talent to fill the void that Rooney leaves – with the likes of Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj (latter having a very good pre-season) who are all capable of playing off the main striker, or in the case of Welbeck, leading the line too. However, the fact is that Rooney clocked 12 goals and 10 assists in 22 league starts last year while there was a combined return of only seven goals from Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverly, Ryan Giggs, Antonio Valencia and Welbeck.

If Robin Van Persie was to get to injured or suspended, United would need another reliable source of goals. They’d also require a player with energy in the middle of the park, passion, bite and ability to track back. It might not be a healthy relationship but it’s a convenient one and Manchester United will stand to gain if they kept Wayne Rooney.

Gareth Bale

The Welshman was an unstoppable force in the 2012/13 league season. In almost the same number of games (44 in 2012/13), he more than doubled his tally by scoring 26 goals in all competitions as compared to 12 in the season before. £80m (and counting) is a ridiculous sum for any player and Tottenham (or Daniel Levy) will be making the right decision in cashing in on Gareth Bale.

In many instances last season, Bale single-handedly carried Spurs through games. He took matters in his own hands more because of lack of other consistent goal threats. This also probably explains why he only assisted 4 goals in the league last season compared to 10 in 2011/12. Though Spurs posed more steel in defence and the middle of the park last season, they lacked ruthlessness up front, especially when Bale was injured or being man marked. Andre Vilas Boas has further bolstered his side by adding Paulinho and Roberto Soldado. The presence of a proven striker like Soldado should potentially make up for the dearth of goals.

If the sale goes through, the funds can be used to invest in three to four good quality players – wingers and forwards (Angel Di Maria as part of the deal would be a great piece of business) and build strength in depth. Truth be told (and ludicrous it might sound), Spurs can achieve a top 4 finish without Gareth Bale.

Aug 012013
 

A statistical comparison between Tottenham’s current strikers and Roberto Soldado. (Via WhoScored.com)

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy

Let’s face it. Daniel Levy’s stubbornness in the transfer market in the last 11 months have cost Spurs dearly. Champions League football is yet another year away from White Hart Lane aswell as the daunting possibility of Gareth Bale’s inevitable departure being a year earlier. Daniel Levy haggling during transfer negotiations are world-renowned and has garnered a heavy reputation as a hard-bargainer. His annoying but usually successful techniques of bringing down prices have helped Tottenham coup some of Europe’s biggest talents for relatively peanuts. Van Der Vaart, Holtby and Lloris being prime examples of players that arrived in North London for low transfer fees; with Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas describing negotiations during the Lloris deal as the “hardest in the 25 years at the club”.

Yet where Daniel has excelled, he has also faltered to devastating effect. The constant pulling-out from deals has left many Spurs fans annoyed, with Levy’s inability to wrap up deals costing Tottenham players. Levy leaving Joao Moutinho till the last few hours of last year’s transfer deadline day meant Spurs missed out because paper work could not be submitted in time; while Leandro Damiao’s transfer broke down earlier this year over the suppossed fee, despite Spurs desperately needing reinforcements. It is increasingly evident that Levy’s tactics have back-fired in the last year or so when he could be backing his new manager with to adequate resources to compete. His obsession with driving a hard-bargain and his stubbornness to cough up the extra few bucks means Spurs, inevitably, miss out on big players.

With Mourinho back, the top 3 places seem cemented, leaving just one spot left for the highly coveted chance of playing in Europe’s biggest competition. With Arsenal (again) seemingly having trouble acquiring players, this summer seems to be the perfect opportunity for Spurs to finally leap frog the Gunners.

Regardless of Arsenal’s incompentence, domestic competition has never been stiffer, so the time for Levy to back AVB with hard cash has come. Daniel Levy should not be put off spending his money considering Andre Villas-Boas’ transfer record in England – which is absolutely impeccable; it’s hard to find a single player he signed struggle. Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku & Jan Vertonghen are prime examples of players he has brought from oversees to roaring success. AVB has already sought out Brazilian midfielder Paulinho, and the deal to send him to Spurs for £17m already been completed. Yet despite signing one of Brazil’s finest talents, Spurs fans alike are all worried this could be another of those transfer windows; where they sign an excellent player but miss out on a much-needed striker. With Paulinho & young FC Twente winger Nacer Chadili already in the bag, Tottenham are now reportedly in for Valencia striker Roberto Soldado. Although Daniel Levy may have been slightly hesitant to heavily fund Andre-Villas Boas last season, he should not hesitate to now after Andre proved his worth this and showcased his tactical nous to rack up Tottenham’s highest ever points total.

To say Spurs are in desperate need of a striker is massive understatement. Tottenham’s current strike force is the epitome of inconsistence. Jermain Defoe’s early season form was sensational and it looked like he’d cement his place as the undisputed striker. However injuries disrupted his rhythm and his form dropped dangerously as he scored only a solitary goal in 2013 – a truly woeful statistic for a player who offers very little if he isn’t scoring. As for Emmanuel Adebayor, he has enjoyed dogs abuse from many Spurs fans all season – a shadow of the man who scored 18 goals and recorded 12 assists the year before. So poor were Defoe’s & Adebayor’s performances during the second half of the season, that AVB simply played Bale as a deep-lying center forward; whose brilliance pulled them out of trouble time and time again. The need for a striker is at breaking point and one of those two need replacing with a hungry established striker. Enter Roberto Soldado.

The former Real Madrid striker is Villas-Boas’ seemingly preferred target after not being impressed by Benteke and Damião. The Spanish international netted 30 goals last season – a brilliant return during Valencia’s worst season in recent memory. After missing out on Eurpean football, Soldado is reportedly desperate to seek pastures new and the appeal of the premier league has caught his eye. Roberto would slot in perfectly at Spurs in Andre’s rumoured 4-3-3 formation next season. Having played most of his career as the lone striker, Soldado’s goal-scoring abilities and hold up play are his strongest attributes – a strong mixture between Adebayor and Defoe. Soldado also boasts one of the most extraordinary conversion rates in football, scoring with 27% of his shots; a phenomenal, refreshing statistic for Spurs fans after watching Adebayor last season.

Roberto Soldado would be a test of Spur’s and Levy’s ambitions, a test they must past if Andre-Villas Boas is to take Tottenham Hotspur to the next level.

Jul 092013
 

It’s no secret that the lads in the top flight of football are earning an absolute fortune, but once they have finished buying women, houses with swimming pools, pedicures for their wives’ Chihuahuas and more women, believe it or not, but they often still have enough left over for some pretty fancy cars. British used car company Autoweb thought it would be fun to look at ten of the most interesting cars owned by footballers. It turns out that Ashley Cole can’t handle more than one woman at the time, hence the two-seater, Messi is saving up for something special, Rooney is as subtle as a brick, Henry isn’t quite mixing with the highflyers and Cristiano Ronaldo is just as flashy off the pitch as he is on it.

May 082013
 

For all of this season, when people have talked about the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur, most of the discussion about whether Tottenham are that wonderfully illogical beast, a ‘one man team’. How a group of eleven players can be bracketed as being solely dependent on one player is a thought capable of twisting your mind into knots (what position would the one man in a one man team play in against a team of eleven? In goal? Would they allow rush goalie?), but Spurs at the moment are in a position akin to Blondie in the late 1970s, when people thought Debbie Harry was Blondie and not merely the lead singer of the band. 

That one man is of course Gareth Bale, currently picking up more trophies than a particularly devious Jackdaw. He has had a sensational season, becoming Spurs first player to score 20 goals in a league season since JurgenKlinsmann in 1995, and doing so in magnificent style with a number of long range howitzers, many of them desperately needed goals late in games. Scoring goals is one thing, but for so many of them to be late winners or equalisers, like against Southampton at the weekend, away at West Ham, at Norwich, at West Brom, home to Newcastle,makes them all the more valuable and not just to headline writers who derive weird enjoyment from making the same ‘Bale-Out’ pun every other week. 

The range of his goals too is very impressive. Eight of his twenty goals have come from outside the penalty area, an amazing figure. To strike the ball so well, do it so consistently and do it when the pressure’s on in big games is a tribute to the man and the constant practice he must put in away from the cameras. The late winners against West Ham and Southampton are the quintessence of his ability to shoot from range. And that would be to ignore his other goals, many of them taken with aplomb. His goal at home to Man City, a delicious dink that left Joe Hart clutching for his Head & Shoulders bottle, show how his finishing especially when one on one with the goalkeeper is excellent. 

To gawp at his shooting and finishing prowess would be to ignore what was before this season his main threat, the pace and sheer athleticism he possesses. He is truly a magnificent human specimen – fast yet powerful, muscular yet lithe. No one currently in the Premiership can simply run past defenders like he can, or match him for pace once he gets into his stride. 

This season, he has been simply majestic, by far Spurs best player, even taking into account the slow start to the season he had as he struggled initially to get to grips with Andre Villas-Boas’s new style of play. The plaudits and the honours he’s received are all fully deserved. The only criticism of him is about his diving – something which he undoubtedly is guilty of on occasion, but which can seem excessive.  

It’s perhaps his lack of a personality that leaves journalists and fans struggling for things to talk about aside from his football. If he beat up DJ’s for not playing a Phil Collins track, got caught cheating on his missus, had scraps with taxi drivers, then maybe his diving wouldn’t be so focused on. His recent penchant for wearing baseball caps backwards and looking like a gawky schoolkid in a low quality US teen drama is perhaps an attempt to give him sort of calling card, even if it’s for possessing awful fashion sense. 

When people talk about Bale, if they’re not debating whether he dives or cooing over the goals he’s scored, they talk of whether he’ll leave at the end of the season. He may well be the best player in the Premiership at the moment, and currently he plays for a side that will quite possibly end the season 5th in the Premiership, earning less than half of what the world’s best players will attain in a week. If he truly wanted to leave for a bigger club and more money, he probably could. The money he’ll rake in you’d imagine would be more than enough to persuade Daniel Levy to sell and use the proceeds for both replacements on the pitch and the new stadium Spurs want to build. 

As a fan, would I be angry at Bale if he left? Frankly, no. He’s been at the club for six years, made 200 total appearances and stuck by the club when in his early days he was treated badly, rarely played and had his infamous streak of 24 successive league games without being on the winning side. He’s done his time, and showed loyalty when last season or even after his exploits against Inter and Maicon in the Champions League he could have left if he made enough of a fuss 

Instead, he’s stayed at the club and at times carried the team on the pitch on his back. Should Spurs fail to make the Champions League, it would be an embarrassment frankly to ask someone of Bale’s ability to play at Europa League level. He’s too consistently good to be denied football at the highest level, especially given how Wales are unlikely to qualify for a major tournament anytime soon. He should get better than what Spurs may well be able to offer him.  

Of course, should he start behaving like a prima donna, or worse pledge loyalty to the club like Sol Campbell and then leave for a rival, he will become despised and loathed. Arsenal fans this time last season may not have begrudged Robin van Persie leaving the club but changed their minds after the manner in which he made it clear he wanted to leave. You wouldn’t expect Bale to do the same, for him to break up with Spurs in the manner of a warring couple in a shoddily scripted soap opera, but you can’t count the possibility out. 

I have been privileged to see Gareth Bale play for Spurs. The latter half of this season, he’s been mesmeric, bringing awe and wonder to a workmanlike team that often struggles to break down opponents. If Tottenham fail to make the Champions League, heck even if they do qualify, were one of Europe’s premier sides to come in for him and Bale made it clear he wanted to leaveI wouldn’t begrudge him that at all. 

He deserves it.

May 012013
 

Off the top of my head, I can tell you who won the World Cup in 1986. I can tell you who won the First Division, the FA Cup, the European Cup and the UEFA Cup too. What I can’t tell you is who won the PFA Player of the Year, partly because it’s quite a long time ago but mainly because I don’t care. I could Google it but I don’t want to because, truth be told, it doesn’t really matter.

The day before the winner was announced the press were reporting that Premier League odds had Gareth Bale as nailed on favourite. So the toy-and-pram-based reaction from football fans to the announcement that Bale had won both the PFA Player and Young Player of the Year awards was as predictable as it was breathlessly theatrical. Not because there’s anything particularly wrong with the PFA’s selection (he wouldn’t have been my choice but it’s hard to build a strong argument against him) but because, historical specifics aside, it’s been the same every year since Normandy Rovers’ William T. Conqueror beat Hastings Athletic’s Harold King to the award after the latter’s season was cut short by a terrible eye injury.

This year, if Liverpool fans desperately looking for another peg to hang their ever-increasing collection of persecution hats on are to be believed, a shadowy cabal of Alex Ferguson, the FA and Baron Greenback rigged the vote in an attempt to persuade Luis Suarez that Liverpool’s annual hysteria-march towards seventh place is not worth the relentless oppression he suffers in England and that Champions League football somewhere off of this sceptred isle might not be the worst thing in the world. Either that or the country’s professionals seized this rarest of opportunities to vent their jealous spleens at the boundlessly talented matinee idol who plays up front for Liverpool when he’s not busy curing the common cold.

While they were typically histrionic in their outrage, they weren’t alone in it. Malcontents the world over were quick to point out, for example, that Bale had scored fewer goals than Suarez or Robin van Persie as if the presence of Michael Carrick in the top six weren’t evidence enough that this award isn’t about who scored the most goals. There’s already an award for that (doubtlessly complete with Ferguson-backed conspiracy to prevent Suarez from winning it), it’s called the Golden Boot and anyone with any interest in football betting would not be putting their money on Bale! Others pointed to the number of times the respective candidates had been booked, presumably mystified that Gary Lineker only ever won the award once.

What all of this fuss ignores, however, is that asking footballers to vote for the season’s best player (or anyone to vote for anything, for that matter) is an inherently subjective exercise – and it’s supposed to be. Voting, by definition, is an expression of opinion. The PFA awards are a reflection of who professional footballers think (or as close to thinking as your average footballer gets) has been the best player over the course of the year. It might not be scientific but if the results were intended to be based on statistics, there’d be no need to vote in the first place.

What’s more, it’s pretty much common knowledge that footballers tend not to take the voting for these awards very seriously. They don’t sit at home on a Saturday night watching Match of the Day, taking notes to refer back to when the voting time comes around, and they don’t spend their Monday mornings studying heat-maps or passing charts. Most of them probably don’t even know who Michael Cox is. And why should they? They’ve got expensive cars to crash, hair to be cut into ludicrous fashions and scantily clad orange ladies to have emotionally vacant sex with. If you think they spend one minute of their copious free time analyzing spreadsheets of who’s made the most successful forward diagonal passes in the final third of away games on Tuesdays when there’s an ‘R’ in the month when they could be having solid gold Bentleys tattooed on their armpits, you’re sorely mistaken.

Many don’t even bother to vote themselves, leaving it to the club’s PFA rep to fill in the ballot for them. The vast majority of those who do probably just vote for their mates or for the first name that pops into their heads, eager to get the paper out from under their noses and get back to texting pictures of their man-parcels to cocktail waitresses.

There’s something intrinsically futile about individual awards in team sports, even more so when it’s being decided by people who give it approximately half as much thought as they give ordering at Nando’s. The real question to ask after Sunday’s bash is not ‘how did Gareth Bale win both awards?’ but ‘why do you really care?’.

Apr 262013
 

PFA Player of the Year

Jack Howes – Bale

As a Spurs fan, obviously I am biased when it comes to who I think deserves Player of the Year. I’m as biased as a parent on sports day, or a member of the FIFA committee deciding which country to give a World Cup to who’s just been handed a suitcase by a member of the Qatari delegation that suspiciously feels like it has hundreds of thousands of dollars in it.

But this season, after watching one man consistently pull off heroics, having a Doctor Who like penchant for digging his team out of bigger and bigger scrapes, there’s only one man for me. For consistency of performance, for his ability to grab games by the scruff of the neck, for having a portfolio of goals sufficiently high in quality to make Matt Le Tissier or Tony Yeboah blush, I’m voting for Gareth Bale.

In seasons past, while Bale was an excellent player, he still had a tendency to be bullied out of games and was perhaps too reliant on his pace. When Spurs beat Inter Milan in the Champions League and Bale had given Maicon the sort of roasting you usually see sausages get on barbecues, I was still at school and in the 6th form common room heard someone say about his display “He wasn’t very good. All he did was kick the ball past the defender then run past everybody.” While this was obviously ludicrously simplistic, there was perhaps an element of truth to it.

This season though, that’s not the case. He has shown genuine skill in the way he goes past people, being a real twinkle toes at times. He has been helped by Andre Villas-Boas playing him in different positions, keeping the opposition off guard, though many times this season, you knew what Bale was going to do – and the opposition still couldn’t stop him. That’s how good he’s been. His pace, dynamism and athleticism has been such that teams have just not been able to keep up with him.

The variety of goals he’s scored has also been mesmerising. There have been fantastic dribbles, tap ins, headers, free kicks, thirty yard screamers, dinks, the lot. All that, and he isn’t even a forward, playing for a side sorely lacking goals in other positions. He truly has carried Spurs at times this season, and while Luis Suarez has done the same for Liverpool, Bale comes with the advantages of not being found guilty of racist abuse and not being a possible cannibal.

For those reasons, Gareth Bale is my PFA Player of the Year

Rob Marrs – Luis Suarez

I’ve always had a soft spot for Michael Carrick and would like to see him win but can’t say he has been the best footballer in the league this season. That is a three-way battle between van Persie, Suarez and Bale.

For all his many sins, Suarez has dragged Liverpool along this season – unlike van Persie he isn’t surrounded by world-class players but he has scored a huge amount of goals. He’s a dynamo and, in my view, has played the best football in the league this season. I think Michu can feel a little hard done-by not being nominated

Ramon Isaac – Robin van Persie

Juan Mata in my opinion is the best footballer and my favourite footballer in the premiership at this very second and it was always going to take something special for me to consider anyone else for the Player of the Year award, unfortunately, to the detriment of my emotional health, I’m going to say this… Robin Van Persie managed that something special and he done in it with a Manchester United team, that has won the league in spectacular fashion. I was skeptical about his move to Manchester United, not that I didn’t think he would do well but I wasn’t sure what he would offer a team that already had so much threat going forward. Well, 24 goals later and I think he’s proved me wrong. Of course the game is not just about the stats but they are pretty conclusive when you look at them. Question marks over whether he could replicate last season’s form, whether he could last a season, was he even worth the £24million they forked out on a player in the last year of his contract? They’ve all been answered with a resounding yes. They obviously aren’t a one man team but they owe a lot of this league’s success, which just happens to be their #20th, down to Van Persie’s goals and the quality of some his strikes have been simply brilliant. There is an air of inevitability when he scores and even with that baron spell he endured, I don’t think anyone doubted it would last much longer and even by then the damage had been done to the rest of the challengers. Goals against Chelsea, Arsenal, City He’s been the standout player for the runaway leaders, so with that in mind Van Persie gets my vote, just, ahead of Mata. I love you Juan.

Rob Pollard – Robin van Persie

I know his form has tailed off slightly in recent weeks, but I genuinely feel he has been the difference for United this season, and has therefore been the key component in United winning the title. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if City had signed him, we’d have won the league. He’s that good.

Ashley Perry – Robin van Persie

Robin van Persie should be awarded PFA Player of the Year. Despite Manchester City’s dwindling efforts this season that have left United with a remarkable lead, RvP won the title for the Reds. The former Arsenal man grew weary of fruitless campaigns at the Emirates and was hungry to win. Simply put, van Persie brought the 20th League title to Old Trafford just like he said he would.

PFA Young Player of the Year

Jack Howes – Christian Benteke

Yes, I have voted for Gareth Bale as PFA Player of the Year and he is also nominated for PFA Young Player of the Year, so using simple logic he should win that award too.

But frankly it’s silly that Bale’s nominated for Young Player of the Year – he’s an experienced player now with close to 200 first team appearances in his career, who is a known commodity. This award should surely be those for who are a surprise package, who in football years if not actual human years are still youthful. As such, I disqualify Bale and vote for the guy who I think genuinely deserves it, Christian Benteke.

This may be a surprise choice, as he’s not the household name his fellow nominees are. But this season he has been an absolute powerhouse, carrying a shit heap of a team virtually on his back at times with remarkable renown. He has had little service, arrived in a country he’s never played in before to play for one of the worst teams in the league, and instead of faltering like almost anyone else would, he’s shown star quality to score goal after goal, many of them beauties. The man is dynamite at times with the ball at his feet.

And though he’s been criticised for being inconsistent – he’s playing for Aston Villa for god’s sake. He’s spent the season feeding off scraps, with next to no help. Try scoring goals when you’re being battered 8-0 by Chelsea, 4-0 by Spurs, 5-0 by Man City, with all of your teammates in your own half, trying and failing to stop the opposition scoring even more. It’s impossible, whether your Lionel Messi or the best kid in the playground at school.

Benteke has been magic, not only scoring goals but coming up with some sublime assists too, creating 10 more chances than any other Villa player this season. He has been their talisman, the fulcrum of their side. For the manner in which he’s done this, considering his lack of experience and the dismally low quality of the team he’s playing for, he gets my vote for PFA Young Player of the Year.

Rob Marrs – Romelu Lukaku

I think Bale will win but I don’t think he should win. He’s nearly 24! Lukaku has shone for an unfashionable team and has, at his best, been unplayable. I think Nastasic at City should have been nominated as should Rafael.

Ramon Isaac – Christian Benteke

The Young Player of the Year happens to be eerily similar to the main award. I wanted to pick Hazard, I really did he’s been phenomenal in his first season here in England, sadly he also finishes a close second. I’ve omitted Gareth Bale because there is no way he should be considered as a young player anymore despite whatever the FA guidelines might be. If you’re turning 24 before the next season, you aren’t “Young” unless your name is Ashley or Luke of course. Back to the award, I’ve picked one Belgian who had his first season in the league, over another. Christian Benteke signed for Villa with no real fanfare, if I remember correctly he hoped to score “7” goals for Villa this season. He’s amassed 15 so far, for a club that quite frankly at times has looked incapable of scoring 15 goals all season and he’s done it with a relative lack of fuss. He’s strong, athletic and has generally been a nuisance to defenders trying to mark him. He’s even keeping fellow Belgian starlet, Lukaku out the national side. He has been a revelation and a bargain buy for the club that desperately needed someone to step up with Darren Bent becoming anonymous. If Aston Villa do survive they can thank Benteke, if they go down I can guarantee they will be saying “bye bye” to him.

Rob Pollard – Gareth Bale

He’s carried Spurs during much of the second half of the season. His goals have been brilliant to watch, and he’s a constant threat. Sandro’s injury was a huge blow to Spurs, but Bale’s form has meant they have managed to keep pace in the race for top four.

Ashley Perry – Christian Benteke

Christian Benteke should win Young Player of the Year after a hugely valuable impact in his first season at Aston Villa. The powerful Belgian has scored the highest % of a club’s goals in the Premier League this season. Villa were threatened with relegation, but Benteke has saved Paul Lambert’s side and the striker is now highly-sought among Europe’s top sides. Big things to come.

Mar 112013
 

Colin Randall writes: Salut! Sunderland has always felt perfectly entitled to stick its nose into other people’s business. We’re Sunderland supporters but also have views on football generally, whether it’s Pete Sixsmith at one of his non-league excursions or Ken Gambles demanding compulsory wearing of pink mittens by shirtpullers and goggles by divers of all teams. These impertinent observations will henceforth appear under the How Dare We? banner. Did I say something about divers? ….

The look of pained innocence on Gareth Bale’s face was priceless. “Me! Dive? You’ve got the wrong man, guv,” you could almost hear him telling the ref, Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz though plain Antonio Mateu will do.

 

But we all, or most of us, know better. It was, as is usually the case with Bale, a fair cop.

It didn’t need anti-English (or Welsh) bias of the sort that’s usually alleged by the hard-of-thinking when a foreign ref gives anything against “one of ours”.

Bale was not just another blameless victim, his unjust reputation having been flown out by EasyJet to wherever it is that Mateu lives. A referee accustomed to the routines of diving and feigning of injury in La Liga had found it quite easy to detect at attempt to hoodwink him at White Hart Lane.

Yet over and over again, he invites the world outside Tottenham (in the broadest sense, meaning the worldwide Spurs catchment area) to see in him the instinct of the cheat.


And what a minor tragedy it is. Here we have a young British player equipped with a formidable array of footballing skills – ball control, movement, pace, strength, finishing power – that all of us can admire except when he’s playing against us.

We saw it at Sunderland. Safely put aside the big-club bias of Shearer and the rest of the MoTD panel. Opinions, I accept, differ fiercely but I was happy to have the endorsement of a top former referee Graham Poll (flawed as even he was) for my own view: “… there is contact but only after Bale’s leg is crumbling.”

In my piece at the time for ESPN, I noted that only Bale himself truly has the answer to the questions asked about him. But he does talk about “entitlement”, the right to go down if he senses a challenge. Why a player would wish to “win” a dubious penalty rather than complete a wonderful run and score or make a goal, as he might have done at the SoL or even last night, baffles me.


 

But I am as sure as I can be that it comes in part from the training ground and managerial instruction. Football has descended to such a squalid level that players are coached in the art of cheating and getting away with. Let us be charitable and say AVB does not explicitly tell Bale to dive when in the penalty area, even on a night when suspension from the next game is bizarrely considered a desirable outcome. But where, otherwise, does Bale get it from? What was he like at school when so much less was at stake but far, far lesser players were up against him – was he falling all over the place even then?

 

There is, naturally, another view. Steve Luckings is a former colleague of mine, a good lad and a Spurs supporter. He has contributed to these pages in the past (and I hope Malbranque’s brilliance with Lyon this season has caused him to revise his dim view of him).

Last night, happy with the excellent 3-0 win against Inter Milan, he posted this simple comment at Facebook:” Gareth Bale: owner of Inter Milan.”

There followed this exchange:

Me:

But isn’t it a shame, Steve, that he ruins his real prospect of greatness by this utterly immature weakness for diving? I fully appreciate that cheating may as well these days be written into the football coaching manuals, and is probably taught on the training ground and insisted upon by managers, but Bale needs to rise above these pressures and use his talent, not his preference for going to ground with no contact, running into opponents’ legs, falling theatrically at the least contact.

Steve:

I couldn’t disagree more. Bale’s highlights reel will not be his best tumbles, they will be his best runs, his best dribbles, his best goals. Ronaldo perfected the art of leaving your leg in a tackle and you only have to wake up in the same time zone as Messi for a him to be rewarded a free kick bit people seem quite happy to only focus on their attributes.

Me:

No. Divers are divers however talented and whoever they are. Ronaldo, like Bale, is reviled for it, just as he – again like Bale – is admired for the runs, dribbles goals. It saddens more than sickens me. And I am not partisan on this; I hammered Larsson at my site for an outrageous dive last season, regularly upbraided Gyan and now criticise Sessegnon. I don’t know how to eradicate it (or feigning injury, shirt pulling, wrestling at set pieces etc) but it is challenging my love of the game.

Steve

The only way to eradicate it, in my view, is to make it a non-contact sport. The same as making every handball incident a free kick/penalty, taking away the final call of the ref for interpretation of intent. I’m sorry but I disagree with the idea that was his most telling contribution or that people will remember that incident from a game an admittedly ridiculously poor Inter Milan team were terrified of him in

So, nothing is resolved. My assessment of Steve’s view is that he is not denying Bale is a diver but saying this is an insignificant aspect of his game.

Jan 042013
 

It seems almost every time Gareth Bale plays I have to attempt to rationalise all the controversy over his alleged diving. He’s been booked five times this season, only of which three of those occasions were for simulation – although it remains ambiguous whether his aim was to cheat or perhaps simply negate a foul to his advantage. Is there even a difference? If you’re fouled, that should be enough to see you rewarded with a free kick or penalty in your favour. But then perhaps there sits the problem, all alone on the ground looking up sympathetically, waiting to be validated. It shouldn’t be perceived as a reward, simply a consequence of the opposing player stopping you from playing.

You’re probably confused at this point, which is fine, because so am I when watching football along with most including the referee and the player involved in the incident. I’m beginning to think it’s the narrative that brings Gareth Bale plummeting down to the ground, its weight to heavy to hold up. Is he to blame? I’d prefer to simply state that everyone involved is responsible. All Gareth can do is accept accountability with it and perhaps stop concerning himself with attempting to influence the outcome when someone sets out to stop him.

Let’s take the last yellow card dished out to Tottenham’s Welsh wing wizard. Running through towards goal against Sunderland, a knee to his leg sees Bale lose balance and down he goes. Was there contact? Yes. Do you need to fall to the ground to be given the decision? No. Could he have remained on his feet and continued running? I don’t know. He knows. I don’t. At the pace, speed he was running at there is a strong possibility that contact will result with him taking an unavoidable tumble. So if he can remain on his feet it might be to the detriment of possession (meaning he continues to run, but loses the ball, or the ball loses him). Would the ref award a penalty in those circumstances? I’m not sure he would because they’d be a strong case to argue that the player displayed strength to stay on his feet and continue. Although in other areas of the pitch, sometimes fouls are committed, play continues, and when the ball is out of play the ref dishes out the deserved punishment (if not just blowing up and awarding it straight away).

So, if he can’t stay on his feet, does he attempt to simply tumble naturally like someone tripping over a concrete slab in the street whilst running to catch a bus? Gravity eating him up unapologetically. No. Why? Well because of a couple of reasons. Three things to be exact.

Firstly, we can’t trust referees to be consistent. Some give free kicks others wouldn’t in the same circumstance. There is always something lost in translation but it’s made easy when the narrative comes into play. In this case, Bale has a reputation, so if he hasn’t been blatantly hacked he can’t have possibly been fouled.

Secondly, the hype. The hype (that reputation) surrounding Gareth is that he has a habit of doing this. Doing this being ‘going down to ground too easily’. The fact he has gone down too easily in the past means that (unfairly) not every incident that follows is viewed as an isolated incident. It comes attach with baggage…If he’s gone down easy before, he’s probably going down easy again. Why does he go down so easily in the first place? He’s been hacked down a couple of times, been out injured because of it. When Bale is actually fouled, unquestionably fouled, he can remain sitting on the turf waiting for treatment longer than other players. Self-preservation, the fear of injury plays out in his mind too often. He’s got some stick (from the Spurs faithful) about being a bit soft. Although quite how a player can be criticised for making sure he’s okay, I don’t know. He’s hardly rolling around on the floor screaming his head off. He’s not arching his back or dramatically, theatrically landing like a piano thrown off a building.

Which leads us into the third…

What appears to have happened is, Bale is over-thinking things to the point that when he is fouled, when there is contact, if he thinks there might be contact – it’s already in his head to accept the easy way out. We can’t sit around and debate what constitutes actual diving or cheating and where perhaps that line is blurred. Well, we can debate (or rationalise like I’m doing now), but it’s not relevant as the only person with the power to do something about it is the player at the centre of it.

If a hard, dirty looking tackle is incoming and Bale wants to avoid it by sliding away and falling down – then he should, as long as he dusts himself up without a cheeky glance to the ref. If he’s going to get booked for it, so be it. If he’s actually avoided injury by second guessing, so be it. He’ll have to take the hit. The irony is, he’s done that a fair few times and it’s not helped. The fact he always claims innocence suggests he’s more than aware of the game he’s playing.

So the alternative is, if contact is made, anywhere on the pitch, stand your ground. If you attempt to stand your ground but still go down then there is little chance of the ref giving the free kick the opposite direction. Why? Because the sheer force of the foul/contact has instantly unequivocally crashed you down into a heap. Don’t exaggerate the foul, don’t allow that pull of gravity to so easily embrace you.

You still confused? Of course you are. I’m dizzy from it.

Its ridiculous there should be any discussion on this at all. A foul is a foul. We all know what it looks like. The problem is, Bale is on a hiding to nothing if he continues glide the tackle. Take Defoe against Sunderland. Now that was a dive. No contact, a blatant attempt to cheat to claim a free kick. Where is the extensive analysis, the narrative, the pointing fingers? How did the ref translate that compared to the incident where Bale was carded?

Remove the ambiguity, remove the hype and remove any doubt from the man in black with the cards.

Bale is growing in confidence, he’s progressing to greatness, gradually but surely he’ll get there. Modern footballers know how to play the game. Wasn’t something they did back in the day when ‘footballers were footballers’ but these days, there is a culture of making sure you’re awarded a free kick, when it is a free kick, but by doing so it clouds the judgement given by the officials. So in that respect, Bale isn’t completely innocent.

I don’t think Bale is a cheat either. He’s Neo in the Matrix trying to stop the bullets when he should really just allow himself to be shot.

Nov 222012
 

By Far The Greatest…Goal of the Week (12)

The Premier League threw up its usual amount of excitement and quality again last weekend.

1. Gareth Bale v Arsenal

2. Anthony Pilkington v Manchester United

3. Luis Suarez v Wigan Athletic

4. Stephane Sessegnon v Fulham

5. Jason Puncheon v QPR

 

Which was the best goal?

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Oct 022012
 

The Premier League threw up its usual amount of excitement and quality again this weekend.

Vote for your favorite goal of the weekend from the following 5 GIFS:

1.Demba Ba (Newcastle United v Reading)

2.Luis Suarez (Liverpool v Norwich City)

3.Nikica Jelavic (Everton v Southampton)

4.Gareth Bale (Spurs v Manchester United)

5.Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United v Spurs)

Vote for your winner now…

Which was the best goal?

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Jul 292012
 

Having pulled out of the Great Britain Olympic team with a back injury, Gareth Bale upset a few people when he showed up in a Tottenham Hotspur pre-season game before any Olympic football had even been played. He scored in Spurs’ 1-1 draw with LA Galaxy and played 75 minutes.

Bale then started Spurs’ game against Liverpool which finished 0-0 and was subbed off at half-time, but not before Charlie Adam got in a crunching tackle on the Welshman.

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