With the return of Benoit Assou-Ekotto not yet clarified, Gareth Bale’s place in the Tottenham Hotspur team is a no-brainer for Harry Redknapp. Since Assou-Ekotto’s injury at the beginning of January, Bale hasn’t put a foot wrong, leaving the bench warming duties to his former comrades Roman Pavlyuchenko and Jermaine Jenas. However, what will happen, fans, and Harry Redknapp may well ask, when the Cameroon international returns from injury? With Juventus reportedly sniffing around the young Welshman, Bale’s Tottenham career is at a cross-road.
Assou-Ekotto opened his account for Tottenham with possibly their goal of the season so far, a sumptuous volley from 30yards against Liverpool. His overall form has been generally good this season, continuing the improvement he made whilst playing in Harry Redknapp’s side last term. Defensively, the Cameroon international probably has the edge over his Welsh counterpart. Assou-Ekotto has made some fine performances in the Tottenham shirt to date, with his Carling Cup final performance against Cristiano Ronaldo in particular a cause for commendation. However, whilst Assou-Ekotto’s distribution has improved, there are times when the player fails to get his head up and spot a pass, instead opting for a measured punt with his left foot down the opposition’s channel. Whilst this is at times effective, and Assou-Ekotto can pick the odd pass, there are times when the attempted long ball simply gifts the opposition possession.
Gareth Bale has no such problems in his attacking play. His repertoire includes great delivery from set-pieces, excellent crossing from free play and an ability to isolate and beat an opposition defender. Bale also uses his pace to provide Tottenham with penetration on the wing, which Tottenham would otherwise lack owing to the injury sustained to Aaron Lennon. However, defensively, although Bale has improved, the left-side of Tottenham’s team can look weak when patrolled by Bale and Modric, and Assou-Ekotto’s defensive nous arguably provides greater cover and stability to the Tottenham defence. Prima facie, this is perhaps a harsh assessment of Bale’s contribution to date. Bale’s run in Tottenham’s starting line-up began on 02 January with a 4-0 win over Peterborough, and Tottenham have conceded just 6 goals in 8 matches with Bale deputising at left-back. This is not a bad statistic for an attack minded team such as Tottenham. However, the manner in which Tottenham conceded a late equaliser at Birmingham could be seen as a cause for future concern. Corluka and King were arguably equally culpable for Liam Ridgewell’s stoppage-time goal, but Bale’s reluctance to stop the original cross from coming in, and making a challenge, was reprehensible. For Jermaine Beckford’s equalising penalty at White Hart Lane in the FA CUP 4th round, although Dawson committed a reckless challenge, Bale offered little support, and with seconds remaining, was caught out of position when the penalty was awarded. Perhaps these are niggling, petty criticisms of Bale, but Harry will have to weigh up Bale’s pros and cons sooner rather than later, as Assou-Ekotto nears first team training.
Redknapp may decide to play Assou-Ekotto in matches where Tottenham may need to be at their best defensively, however, changing a back four is not usually something a manager will do if it can be avoided. Therefore, Redknapp has a real selection head-ache upon Assou-Ekotto’s return to full fitness. Redknapp must choose a first-choice left-back, and banish one of the two players to the bench. Bale has impressed the Spurs faithful immensely since returning to the side, and perhaps if he is to ever dislodge Assou-Ekotto, and claim the left-back spot for himself, that time has come. Otherwise, the rumours regarding Juventus’s proposed move for Bale, will continue to circulate. Whilst Bale is still just 20 years-old, the player is capable of playing at the highest level, and if he doesn’t start doing it at Tottenham, the player may begin to look elsewhere.