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.