Gareth Bale has become the talking point of English football. Any bout of awkward silence in a social situation between two or more males that are both aware the other has a reasonable interest in the beautiful game is filled with the words “How about that Gareth Bale then?”
So how about that Gareth Bale then? He’s been ripping the Premier League apart, with 16 goals and 2 assists in 25 domestic appearances, and since December the Welshman has been turning draws and even potential defeats into victories single-handed for Tottenham.
Bale has found that much needed consistency which he’s lacked in previous years, and furthermore has not been found wanting or gone absent in the big games, including the North London Derbies in which he scored in both this season.
The 23 year old has adopted the responsibility that has come with his flurry of form, understanding the rest of the team are now dependent on him to produce results. Andre Villas-Boas now deploys him at the tip of the Spurs midfield, almost playing as a second striker – a position where you must make a considerable impact in every match or the rest of the team is likely to suffer.
It’s sparked the debate over whether the Welshman can be considered to be “world class”. Of course, the term is always up for interpretation. Some would view only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as world class, whereas others would include the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Falcao and Bastien Schweinsteiger to name a few. I was unconvinced Bale yet belonged in either categorisation, until I witnessed his second goal against West Ham last month that may be looked back upon in the years to come as big a career defining moment as his hatrick against Inter Milan when he was just 18 years old.
And with the “World Class” debate has come the auxiliary discussion that Tottenham fans have no doubt feared for some time; where will Gareth Bale be playing his football next season? Although remaining at White Hart Lane is certainly not out of the question, especially if AVB’s men finish up the season having qualified for the Champions League, but the word on the street is indicating a move to Spain, most likely for Real Madrid.
As a football fan, I can only lick my lips at the prospect of witnessing Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale playing on opposite flanks – their sheer athleticism and technique would surely make them impossible to defend against. But as an Englishman, a Match of the Day viewer and a fan of the Premier League, a growing concern washes over me every time the potential Madrid deal is discussed in the papers, with prices varying from £40million to £70million and a bumper contract to boot.
Of course, comparisons can be made with the story of Cristiano Ronaldo, whom after growing into a true world-beater at Manchester United, left for Real Madrid at the age of 24. Ronaldo has gone on to turn a rather impressive goal ratio of one goal every two games for the Red Devils into an unbelievable feat at the Bernabeu of scoring more goals than appearances made. I have little doubt that Bale could go on to make similar achievements, but for the sake of the English game I hope he shows some loyalty to his roots in the summer, as I’m not sure the Premier League can handle losing another “world class” player.
In many ways, the decline started with the loss of the former United winger. Although there is still plenty of top draw talent in the Premier League, we’ve spent the last four years without a standout marquee individual. Similarly, in that time, Luka Modric has departed to none other than Real Madrid, and furthermore, the failed golden generation of English players has aged considerably, with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Ashley Cole struggling to secure contract extensions, whilst Steven Gerrard has had to adapt his game to losing a vital yard of pace.
The rise of Manchester City has allowed for considerable talent to come in, namely Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, and Manchester United currently have one of the top strike partnerships in Europe in Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, but do any of these come close to the same category as Messi and Ronaldo – that interpretation of “world class” that separates the elite players from those with something truly special?
They all have their drawbacks and disadvantages, and it is interesting that amid last week’s RooneyGate scandal, only PSG were linked with having shown any interest or intent to sign the Englishman. Furthermore, a number of our stars, such as Juan Mata, Yaya Toure, and David Silva, are players who failed to make it to the absolute top level in La Liga and have therefore decided to make a name for themselves abroad.
Of course, the sheer money in the English game will always bring some of the world’s best to our clubs and television screens. But the difference between the Premier League and La Liga is not the money; it’s the pride of playing for either Barcelona or Real Madrid. Only footballers of true quality can get through their doors, and to even be linked with a move to either Spanish giant is a feat which the majority of Europe’s elite players can only dream of.
The same cannot be said for the English clubs. Whereas the Madrid and Barca player rosters are filled with the best of the best, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal have all faced periods of highs and lows, with the quality of the latter three diminishing over the past few years, and none being strangers to bit-part players, the likes of Gareth Barry, Yossi Benayoun or Ashley Young, who perform a role in the side but are miles away from being considered Europe’s best.
Similarly, the Champions League performances of England’s top clubs have showed up the lack of top level quality in the Premier League, or at least their inability to perform consistently and when the pressure is on, as has this season’s one-team title race, and the inability to defend all round throughout the division.
I do not wish to suggest Gareth Bale has the weight of the future of the Premier League upon his shoulders when making a decision that will severely affect the rest of his career. Of course, the English top flight will survive without him, and it is still a long way off of losing its reputation for being the most exciting league in the world, with a thick spread of talent from the top to the bottom of the table.
But the loss of another “World Class” winger, before reaching the pinacle of his abilities would be a huge loss to the English game, and a sign that La Liga has become the epicentre of European football.
Whereas Ronaldo’s move was understandable, I would find Bale’s departure somewhat more hurting. He’s only had one season of true brilliance, although he has been performing at a level beyond his years for some time. But unlike the Portuguese forward, Bale has been brought up through the English system; he’s one of our own, a Southampton academy product, who’s risen through the ranks and benefited from the English game. Of course, loyalty is nothing in football anymore; careerism comes first. But losing a star so young, before even becoming truly “world class”, can quite simply be no good for the Premier League. I just hope the Welshman takes into consideration just how he got to where he is today, before signing on the dotted line.
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