The English football media strikes again. Like a small army of workers who incessantly build walls around the British Isles higher and higher so as to keep all the evils of the outside world away.
After his hat-trick in the San Siro, Tottenham‘s Gareth Bale was described as the best left-sided player in the world. After one game. Now I get it, people work themselves into an overexcited frenzy and say things they don’t really mean. The lead football broadcasters in this country, however, should have a little more composure than to spout nonsense like that.
Now here’s the thing: I made a point recently that it would be nice to open the newspapers in this country and find a feature on the foreign leagues, no matter whether it was Brazil, Italy or Holland. The replies from most were that this is our league and that is theirs, and there shouldn’t be any crossovers; I wouldn’t find a section on the North London Derby in a paper in Spain, for example.
That may be so, but Europe is much, much smaller now than it was even 20 years ago. Everyone admires Lionel Messi and everyone wants to be managed by Pep Guardiola. The biggest game of this season up until this point – Europe-wide – is Real Madrid vs. Manchester United. So, with that notion that our league is ours and theirs is a million miles away, isn’t it strange that foreign leagues are in contact with the Premier League so often because of bodies like UEFA?
But that’s not the point, the point is that the media have a responsibility to either report the truth, if that’s your specific field, or give opinions that are credible. Stating that Gareth Bale is better than Franck Ribery, Cristiano Ronaldo and many others after one game is so far past the border of embarrassing that you start to uncover an alternate agenda.
This past weekend, this question was put forward by Sky: “is there a hotter property in Europe than Bale?” Now look, once again I see that people are excited by the potential of Bale and what he’s done so far, but the fact it has come from Sky makes it even more laughable. That company structure their whole year around the transfer windows and specifically deadline day. Even if you’re a bit lazy or have misconceptions about foreign leagues, you’re going to be well aware of the talent abroad because of the circus Sky create.
So, is there a hotter property on the continent than Bale? Yes, many. For starters, Radamel Falcao, the player who was deemed good enough to line-up alongside Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the FIFA world XI. The player who tore Chelsea to pieces in a game that probably acted as the only reference point many in England have of the player. A footballer who has actually won trophies and is worth the transfer fees that are being quoted.
It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t an aimless dismantling of a good Premier League player, rather of the image that’s created of him by the media.
Each era in football, no matter how small or few in years is defined by a select group of players. You look back over the last decade and the late-90s and think of Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, and Paolo Maldini. These were exceptional players who defined that time of football, where the current era is unquestionably the age of Messi and Barcelona.
People will have their preferences for a specific league around Europe – and the fact that the foreign leagues are readily available on British television shows that there is some validity in the desire to see features in the newspapers. But as football fans, people should be drawn to the very best that is around at any time, even if you don’t fancy it in the weekly makeup of your football diet.
It’s like talking to people who were around in the 1960s or 70s who speak so fondly of music at that time. It doesn’t matter what you listen to now, you always acknowledge bands or artists like The Beatles or Michael Jackson as some of the very best and the defining figures of a specific generation.
So, when Jeff Stelling puts it forward that Bale is better than Ronaldo and only bettered by Messi, I see it as insulting. It’s insulting because players like Andres Iniesta are one of a kind, and there just so happens to be another one in Xavi, and perhaps even Cesc Fabregas. Xavi and Iniesta are the finest midfield partnership some of us may ever see, and whose collective wizardry is enough to bring Mordor to its knees.
They talk about Bale’s numbers for this season and the fact he’s on 15 goals in all competitions up until this point for Tottenham. Do excuse me, but Messi is on course for 50 later this month and Ronaldo has just scored his 182nd goal in 179 games for Real Madrid. Those two are greats, genuine artists of the game and as close to untouchable, with only few individuals like Iniesta matching them for ability and talent.
Tottenham fans can worship and idolise Bale all they want and declare him their most valuable asset, and that’s fine, that’s why we watch football. But surely some of them have to be a little embarrassed by the sensationalism surrounding a good football player made out to be a great football player?
It was also suggested that Bale is worth the same to Tottenham as Messi is to Barcelona. Of course he is, but it’s all relative. Yet Sky don’t say that. They skew their point to make it seem like Bale is as good or on course to become as good a Messi. Jack Wilshere is as important to Arsenal as Messi is to Barcelona. So is Luis Suarez at Liverpool, Robin van Persie at Manchester United, Mario Gotze at Dortmund, and Sergio Aguero at Manchester City. Yet people aren’t suggesting that those players, who are some of the leading names in the game, are an equal to Messi.
Bale hasn’t been the best player in the Premier League this season; that award should go to van Persie, especially if United lift the title. After him? Suarez. And after that? Juan Mata. Hell, you could argue Michu has made a bigger impact at Swansea. Not that I’m suggesting it but it could be argued.
Yes, we all get carried away by what goes on during 90 minutes on a football pitch. But a lot of what the media have tried to package as gospel has been pathetic. If Bale’s career were to end tomorrow, I would look back at him as a good Premier League player, and nothing more. I won’t look back at him in 15 years as a player who challenged the might of Messi, the rest of Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo. Because on the whole it’s not true.
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