If you’re a Southampton fan you’d say Gareth Bale’s emergence onto the footballing landscape came in 2006 when he made his debut. I remember hearing about a young kid who was good at free kicks and I was lucky enough to be in Southampton (as it turned out although that’s not how I felt at the time) when they were playing Coventry and having never been to St Mary’s got myself a ticket and saw this simian looking left back score a fantastic curling set piece.
Like many other non Saint’s fans I watched his development from a distance. Not watching much of him but catching the odd goal or surging forward run on various highlights packages. Then, not for the first time Spurs came in and bought a youngster currently learning his trade in the hope to develop them into the “next big thing”. For once it actually worked and Bale started his career well, scoring goals and in particular another free kick in the north London derby. Sadly he then got injured and when he returned didn’t seem to have his old spark.
Another young prospect Spurs had somehow ruined.
As many clamoured for Bale to return to the side at left back I won’t deny I felt differently. I didn’t believe he had what it took to make it at the top and said as much. I’ve always been fairly outspoken with regards to my club, and the players who wear the lilywhite, and as such I rarely sit on the fence. I still stand by my comments though as I don’t believe and never have done that Gareth Bale is good enough at left back to make it at the top. Some will disagree but here’s hoping we never find out.
For most Spurs fans his emergence came close to 2 years to the day ago in the FA Cup 3rd round against Peterborough. His marauding forward runs from full back created havoc and helped the club earn an easy win. He didn’t look back from that moment on and was Spurs’ main attacking threat during the second half of that season even though he was classed as a defender for most of it. He did however start playing the odd game on the wing and gave Spurs fans a taste of what was to come.
The following season he started to come to the attention of the rest of the footballing world thanks to displays in the Champions League. In particular his hat-trick in the San Siro which catapulted him to super stardom even if only for a few months. The football journalists immediately assumed he was too good for little ol’ Spurs and would be moving to pastures new in the summer. That didn’t happen and he’s continued to be influential in our rise up the table.
However, for me it wasn’t the first time I saw him play in Southampton, or him joining Spurs, or moving onto the left of midfield that saw his emergence. It wasn’t even his hat-trick against Inter. We all knew at that stage what he could do and what he was capable of. Maybe members of the press or the average fan on the street didn’t but those who watched him every week did. No, for me his real emergence has only just happened and it’s been at the expense of Aaron Lennon.
Let me explain. When I said he would never make it at the top level he was playing as a left back. He’s not a left back. He’s not good enough at defending to make it at the top in that position. He can do a job there if called upon and if he was playing for a team like Barcelona who are rarely asked to defend then he could play in that position, but he’s too creative to be wasted that far back. He’s pretty good at playing on the left of midfield too, a winger with bags of pace and crossing ability matched by very few in world football, however when asked to play in that position he can sometimes drift out of games (as all wingers can do) and can be defended easier. His best position, one which he has started to develop in recent times is the old fashioned inside forward. Large thanks would have to go to Harry Redknapp and his coaching staff for that but Lennon’s injury has meant a change in playing style for the team.
The more familiar 442 or 4411 as we tend to use has had to be tinkered with for the modern 4231 or 4312 and Bale has been given license more than any other player to support the front men. He’s finally been unleashed and has benefited greatly. His finishing is on a par with van der Vaarts, heading equal to Kaboul’s and with the ability to roam he’s impossible to mark. Given creative freedom to find space for himself he’s proving to be our Ronaldo and that’s what he should be aiming for. Maybe he’s not quite good enough to score 50 goals a season, (who is?) but he’s good enough to be getting 20-30 in this team as long as he’s allowed to. As with Ekotto’s injury 2 years ago (just as Redknapp was going to send Bale on loan) he took his chance and changed his career, with Lennon’s injury this season we’ve seen enough to believe the Welshmen has found his best position and could emerge as one of the best players in the world.
It wouldn’t help to give him the odd free kick either!!
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