Following a festive period that saw Tottenham Hotspur pick up 13 points out of a possible 15 on offer, supporters have been left with plenty of fond memories from a great run of form that’s seen the side propelled up to third in the Premier League table.
The indisputable highlight of the past five games has of course been Gareth Bale’s wonderful hat-trick during the 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa. Although given events at the Stadium of Light only three days later, the Welshman’s sublime efforts at Villa Park have of course since been consigned to the shadows.
Indeed, if Gareth Bale was hoping for something along the lines of a new year and a new start, then the yellow card he picked up for his perceived dive during his side’s 2-1 win away to Sunderland saw him start 2013 in the worst possible manner.
The yellow card Martin Atkinson dished out to Bale on the 29th was his fifth of the season, ensuring the 23-year-old started the year in the stands to serve out a one game suspension during the weekend’s home win against Reading. For many fans, not to mention the player himself, the suspension marked the latest in a long line of grievances their star asset has had to endure this term.
Following extremely dubious bookings for simulation against both Liverpool and Fulham earlier on this term, some feel that his suspension against Brian McDermott’s men represents a fitting hallmark for a player that’s quickly becoming the Premier League’s favourite scapegoat in the common crusade against the division’s biggest con artists.
Yet with each passing yellow card Bale receives, both the Welshman and his supporters’ cries of injustice are beginning to grow both tired and irrelevant in their regularity.
Every time Bale seems to pick up a booking, the retorts always seem to be the same. For the man himself, this fabled reasoning that he’s running so fast that even the briefest amount of contact (and let’s be under no illusions as to quite how minimal the contact with Craig Gardner was last Saturday) gives him carte blanche to go down, has seemed to leave him with something of a siege mentality.
Despite being somewhat in denial about his reputation for taking a tumble, Bale has ambled on defiantly against the perceived injustices Premier League referees have heaped against him. Whether or not he’s actually seen footage of himself diving to win a penalty at the Emirates last season or going down under thin air in front of an onrushing Brad Guzan against Aston Villa this term, we can’t be too sure, but what we can be sure of is Bale’s staunch belief that he’s not doing anything wrong.
Although with only half a season gone and three bookings for diving already attained, enough must now be enough.
You can sit down and contest the three decisions as much as you want, you can loop them over in slow motion or you can project them onto the side of Buckingham Palace if it makes you feel better, but it won’t make an ounce of difference. Regardless of whether he should have been booked in those three incidents, his behaviour this term has done absolutely nothing to shake his tag as a con-artist or to prevent him from attaining the reputation in the first place.
And if he hadn’t had such a reputation, maybe he might not have found himself sitting on the bench on New Year’s Day serving out a suspension. Rightly or wrongly, it seems difficult to argue against the notion that referees are judging Bale on reputation, rather than each incident on its own merits. Is this acceptable? Not in the slightest. Does this mean that Bale can carry on as he has done screaming injustice? Not a chance.
Gareth Bale can’t extrinsically control the attitude of referees but he can control his own behaviour. Because for as flaky as some of the yellow cards that he’s picked up for diving have been, it’s hardly like he’s been maimed down for a series of clear-cut fouls, is it? Collapsing under a touch of the arm from Craig Gardner is hardly ‘protecting himself’ as he likes to call it, or avoiding a Charlie Adam like lunge.
Bale doesn’t appear to be cut from the cloth of someone lacking in intelligence and after two yellow cards picked up for diving already this term, he couldn’t have been unaware to the situation he’d found himself in. Contact or not, going down under Craig Gardner’s challenge was playing with fire and he ultimately got burned.
But he’s becoming increasingly misguided if he believes that the briefest of contact, no matter how pathetically minimal, renders him bulletproof from both critics and referees alike. If Gareth Bale can’t work the puzzle out himself then it’s time Andre Villas-Boas ushered him in the right direction.
Again, no one is denying that he’s been unfairly accused of diving at times this season, but there’s a reason why Bale’s suffering this fate and not his equally as speedy teammate Aaron Lennon. He needs to rein it in, keep his head down and keep away from controversy. A simple way to try and shed the miscarriages of justice that referees have inflicted is to simply not give them the chance in the first place.
The world of refereeing like any other, is one that’s far from perfect and Bale’s frustrations with Premier League refs aren’t without gravitas. But this is the environment he’s playing within and for the foreseeable future, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. This is a fight that Bale isn’t going to win. And until he backs down from his own unflappable personal stance, things won’t get easier anytime soon.