The current Premier League season will be remembered for many things; the retirement of three greats of the game in Sir Alex Ferguson, Paul Scholes and David Beckham, the rise of the Bundesliga on the European stage, the controversial appointment of ‘interim’ manager Rafa Benitez at Chelsea and Luis Suarez reaffirming his nickname of ‘the cannibal’ after biting Branislav Ivanovic on live television. But equally, the current campaign will be remembered for the coming of age of Gareth Bale, with the Tottenham winger being claimed by many as belonging to the very narrow and elite category of footballers that are considered to be ‘World Class’.
The Welsh Wonder’s stats tell their own story; 21 goals in the Premier League,73 shots on target, the most in the English top flight, and 31 goals in all competitions – a total only beaten once by Cristiano Ronaldo during the 2007/2008 season. The combination of Bale’s tender age of 23 and his ability to score goals of great beauty seemingly with comfort and ease has lead to comparisons between the two wingers, triggering speculation of a move to one of the continental superpowers, with every club from Chelsea, to PSG to Barcelona reportedly showing a keen interest, further heightened by the Lilywhites’ failure to qualify for the Champions League this season.
What is arguably more impressive however, is that the PFA Young Player of the Year and PFA Player of the Year has not done it at Manchester United or another European institution, but rather at a club that has overall been found wanting over the course of the season and finished up in fifth place. Gary Neville’s quip earlier in the year stating that Spurs wouldn’t be in the top eight without the talismanic Gareth Bale may have been excessively harsh, but his importance at White Hart Lane has transformed from that of being a key first team player into a figure where the difference between victory and defeat, success and failure, rests almost entirely upon his shoulders.
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To fend off potential suitors prowling around North London in the summer, Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy will reportedly offer his star winger a bumper contract, according to The Independent. The deal will include a salary that will be negotiated between £150k and £200k per week, adding a rather costly £5million to the club’s wage package, in addition to a transfer release clause believed to be around £50million. Although the Lilywhites appear to have succumbed to the fact Bale will leave White Hart Lane for a higher calling at some point in his career, the hope is that the new deal will turn off buyers over the course of the summer, with a clear signal from the Welshman that he is content to stay, and thus he will remain at the club for at least another season.
But are Tottenham in danger of putting all their eggs in one basket by investing heavily in a single player? Would it make more sense to let Bale leave now rather than undergo another season of the Spurs first team relying upon the Welshman’s abilities to get results? Could Levy’s ingenious plan backfire to the detriment of the North Londoners?
My initial concern is the magnitude of importance Bale has as an individual in regards to Tottenham as a football club. I’ve already outlined how integral the Wales international has been on the pitch for Spurs this season, but from a fiscal point of view, his current deal of £110k per week is already a record breaking wage package for the club, and his new contract will further surpass that barrier.
The Lilywhites have had their fair share of stars before – Ledley King, Luka Modric and Dimitar Berbatov to name a few from their recent history – yet the hysteria that surrounds Bale, his mixture of that vital end product in terms of goals and assists in addition to the aestetic nature of his style of play, arguably puts him on a pedestal way above his predecesors, perhaps not necessarily in the eyes of the fans or through any particular cult status, but rather the potential impact he could have on the world of football as we know it.
He represents the new age of athleticism and speed, but he is in danger of breaking the old adage of no player being bigger than their club. The Welshman is certainly not the arrogant type, and will unlikely take advantage of the situation for any personal gain, but it does polarise the squad not only in terms of quality but furthermore the amount he is comparatively paid.
On the other hand, Daniel Levy will be desperate not to make the same mistakes as the local rivals, Arsenal. Less than a decade ago, the Gunners were one of the mainstays of the title race, yet Arsene Wenger’s inability to hold onto key players or successfully replace them has seen the first team depreciate quickly in quality and value, resulting in the club sliding down the pecking order and reducing in stature in the Premier League as well as on the continent.
Although some have left the Emirates in the pursuit of silverware – with Arsenal currently amid an eight year trophy drought – others have departed simply due to Wenger’s stubbornness in refusing to offer his players competitive wages in comparison to other elite European clubs. The result has been that players reject offers of new contracts, and thus, as their deals wind down, they are often sold a year before their expiration at a bargain price.
If Daniel Levy has one outstanding strength it’s his ability to sell players for the right price at the right time – shown by his decision to resist selling Luka Modric for another year to keep him out of Chelsea’s grasp whilst squeezing every possible penny out of Real Madrid – and the Spurs chairman will be determined to receive Bale’s full worth in transfer funds upon his departure.
Furthermore, although Wenger has been criticised for his rather cautious approach in the transfer market, with Arsenal’s record transfer fee set at just £17million for Santi Cazorla, how do you actually replace the likes of Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Patrick Viera or Robin Van Persie? All four at their peaks were amongst the best footballers in the world, and finding an adequate alternative for Gareth Bale at Spurs will no doubt bring about a similar problem -the inevitable slump in quality between the outgoing star and the incoming replacement, unable to fill the rather large void in the first team.
Similarly, with Tottenham once again missing out on Champions League qualification this season, despite recording their highest points total to date in the Premier League era, you’d feel they’ll need Bale more than they need the money ahead of next season. Andre Villas-Boas was keen to deny that handing his winger a new deal would infringe on the club’s ability to capture key transfer targets, such as Leandro Dalmao and Joao Mountinho, in addition to at least one covering winger for Bale an Aaron Lennon.
If Spurs are ever to make it into the promised land of top-tier European football, the likelihood of them doing it is much greater with Bale remaining at the club. Even more so, should the wizard of White Hart Lane continue with his hot form throughout the course of next season, it will only raise his current price-tag, or rather, in light of his rumoured release clause set to come into effect upon signing a new contract, signify to the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Co. that his £50million fee would be well justified.
On the other hand, we are yet to witness Bale during a dry spell or playing with dented confidence, and should the long range efforts from absurd angles start veering wide rather than finding the top corners of the net, his valuation in monetary terms could well level out, and the Lilywhites will have missed their opportunity to cash in on the Welshman for the optimum amount.
But keeping the winger-come-forward in North London for another year can only bode well for Spurs amid their ambitions to break into the Champions League. His goals have been vital this season and no doubt will be following the summer break, and should Daniel Levy bring in further reinforcements during the transfer window, the club stand a good chance of finally achieving their aims. The £50million release clause also gives the club and the player the opportunity to review their unique situation in a year’s time, at which point the circumstances surrounding Bale may be in complete contrast to the present day, as is often the way in the world of football.
But it is clear that Bale is at the club on borrowed time; there is only so long Levy can keep him within the realms of White Hart Lane before it becomes obvious that he has outgrown the club. He arguably already has, and the task for Levy and Villas-Boas will be to make sure that Spurs do not become a one-man team, on and off the pitch. The easiest way to achieve this, will be to bring in high quality players in the summer.