Spurs must do their bit to ensure Bale remains boy down the Lane
Gareth Bale celebrates after scoring this second goal from a free kick against Olympique Lyonnais at White Hart Lane on Thursday night, the latest glorious strike in a great season. Photograph: Paul Gilham/Getty Images
SOCCER ANGLES:Top four finish and Champions League spot needed to keep whizz kid at the club, writes MICHAEL WALKER
Gareth Bale is on the run. Bale is charging into territory occupied only by those who have been scintillating at the highest level of the game. He has become one of those players people pay to watch, a player the rest of the game revolves around.
Tottenham Hotspur have a had a few in their time, plenty of supporters watched Glenn Hoddle, and only Glenn Hoddle, when he was at White Hart Lane, and for Bale to be mentioned in this company shows the development of the 23-year-old Welshman.
He has become good enough for the English to be openly regretful of his nationality.
It happened with Ryan Giggs, with Roy Keane, and with Kenny Dalglish long before. It is a back-handed, cack-handed compliment, one with which Bale will be at ease. If he is brattish, he hides it well; he has taken to understanding that compliments come in varieties in football.
There is the obvious form: the season before last Bale was voted player of the year by his fellow professionals. That is usually a signal that quality has arrived. Then there is the clamour industry – speculation that links Bale with Barcelona or Real Madrid after every effervescent display, and there have been a few of those of late.
Then there’s the match day practical praise. Increasingly Bale has found that his is “double-teamed”. Which aggravates him.
Adapt my game
“I’ve had to adapt my game, mix it up,” he said midway through last season. “It’s something I want to do to improve, something I have to do. I’ve started to come inside a lot more and that has made me a better player and harder to play against.
“But having two people on you blocking a pass is frustrating. It annoys me, I’d rather have a one-on-one, but it’s kind of a compliment. If they are developing tactics to try to stop me, it shows that I’m doing well. But it is annoying.”
Bale made that remark over a year after terrorising Inter Milan, then champions of Europe, in the Champions League. This shows Bale has now been excellent on a consistent basis, a mark of true pedigree.
Yesterday morning the back pages in England were again dominated by Bale’s antics, this time from Thursday night’s Europa League tie against Lyon at White Hart Lane.
Bale’s two goals – in a 2-1 win – were free-kicks of devastating swerve and speed and in themselves were something to cherish. But it is the fact Bale has now scored seven goals in his last five matches, and in the space of five days delivered two doubles to beat Newcastle United, then Lyon, that really makes you think he has entered a new phase.
Cast some doubt
Arsene Wenger cast some doubt on this theory yesterday, downplaying Bale by comparing him to Lionel Messi – “Messi has won two or three Champions Leagues, a few championships, scored 95 goals in a year, so let’s not go too quick,” Wenger said – but that misses the point that Messi is a phenomenon. Bale isn’t, but he is some player, one who could transform a better side than Tottenham.
A more appropriate comparison, perhaps, is with Cristiano Ronaldo. There is a high-speed winger element to this, of course, but there is also added goals. Bale has 21 this season, and it’s February. What’s more, some have been superb – his run from inside his own half against Norwich City to score a late equaliser last month, actually had the whiff of George Best about it.