Gareth Bale’s hat-trick performance for Tottenham against Aston Villa on Boxing Dayhas again projected into the headlines as the transfer window approaches. His second half performance at Villa park will remind top clubs of the talent that is currently at White Hart Lane. A similar performance against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light could turn into a frenzy of interest that Spurs will not want to consider under any circumstances.
Earlier in the season, former Tottenham player, Luka Modric spoke about Bale in the media, sparking speculation that the Welshman could be following his former team mate to Real Madrid. Speaking of Bale, Modric said,
“”I agree he should play for Real Madrid and I hope he’ll come.”
Following Bale’s display at Villa Park Sandro was quoted in the Sun, praising his colleague,
“He is so good. It’s easy to talk about him because he is a great player and a great guy as well. He’s one of the best in the world and I love playing alongside him. He’s good enough to play for Brazil.”
Tottenham manager, Andre Villas-Boas, praised Bale but also attempted to play down any transfer speculation in his post-match comments.
“He is up there with the best. He is showing tremendous skills and he is improving every day – he is such a young player – and helping the team. He is one of our major assets. A player of this dimension has a market value that is not attainable for most other clubs.”
Three Years On
Gareth Bale has become the player to whom Tottenham look when in need of inspiration and his hat-trick against Aston Villa demonstrates that his star is on the ascent once again. Liverpool have had Steven Gerrard, Manchester United have Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, Arsenal relied on the Dutchman last season but it’s been a long time since Spurs have had a player of such stature who is capable of turning a game with a moment of brilliance. Now, however, they have Gareth Bale and his rise shows the continuation of the remarkable turnaround for the young player since his arrival at White Hart Lane. A little over three years ago there were rumours and suggestions of him leaving Spurs as he struggled to live up to the high praise which accompanied his transfer from Southampton in May, 2007.
Bale, then eighteen years of age, was another player from the successful Southampton Academy to make the step up to a Premier League club and cost Spurs £5 million with the potential to double with appearances and success. His initial appearances in Martin Jol’s side were encouraging. He made his debut in August, 2007 at Manchester United in a single goal defeat and a week later scored his first Tottenham goal in a 3 – 3 draw at Fulham when he received the ball from Robbie Keane to race down the left wing and score – a sight which through time would become the norm for watching Spurs fans and opposing defenders. He scored from a free-kick in the north London derby with Arsenal and then scored in a Carling Cup tie against Middlesbrough giving him three goals in the first four matches he had started for the club.
Spurs’ overall results, however, were poor and Juande Ramos replaced Jol in October but in only his second game for the new manager Bale was injured in a Premier League game against Birmingham in early December, 2008 and was to miss the rest of the season.
At the start of the next season Bale alternated between left back and the left side of midfield but the team was struggling and Bale’s performance at Stoke in October, 2008 summed up perfectly his own time with Spurs and the club’s situation at the time. The club were bottom of the Premier League with two points and the 1 – 2 defeat in their eighth League match was to be Ramos’ last game in charge in a Premier League match. In the seventeenth minute, playing at left back, Bale gave the ball away with a poor pass out of defence and as he tried to retrieve the situation he committed a foul to concede a penalty and was dismissed as Stoke scored their opening goal from the penalty spot.
As Bale started his three match suspension, a new manager came in and Bale found it difficult to reclaim his place as Harry Redknapp’s team battled to avoid relegation with Benoit Assou-Ekotto playing regularly at left back for the rest of the season.
As season 2009-10 commenced Bale was recovering from surgery during the summer and had an unenviable record weighing heavily on his young shoulders – he had never played on a winning Spurs’ team in his two years at the club. That burden was eventually lifted at the end of September, 2009 when, as Robbie Keane scored 4 goals in Spurs’ 5 – 0 win over Burnley, he appeared as a late substitute – after a record twenty four Premier League matches without a win.
Assou-Ekotto continued to hold the left back position and there was talk that Bale might go out on loan while some clubs were considering putting in a bid for the young player during the January transfer window. An injury to Assou-Ekotto, however, was to give Bale his opportunity for an extended run in the team. When Assou-Ekotto returned to fitness after a two month absence, Bale moved to left midfield with Luka Modric playing a more central role and as the end of the season approached with Spurs looking to grab a Champions League place, Bale scored in consecutive wins at home over Arsenal and Chelsea.
Gareth Bale was now an established member of the Spurs team which played in last season’s Champions League and he had established a good understanding with Assou-Ekotto on the left wing. In the first Premier League away game at the Britannia Stadium Bale had a point to prove and did so in style with the two goals which earned Spurs the three points. He set aside the ghost of his previous problems at Stoke and provided the winning goal with a wonderful left foot volley.
Bale in Champions League
It was at the San Siro Stadium against Inter Milan that Bale announced himself on the world stage. With Spurs Champions League campaign looking doomed as they faced a four goal deficit with only ten men after thirty five minutes it was Bale who restored some pride for the team with a second half hat-trick with goals of unbelievable quality. He ran at the Inter defenders with pace and left them floundering on three different occasions as Spurs staged a remarkable comeback to lose by only one goal to the reigning Champions. By the end it was the Inter fans who were baying for the final whistle.
In the return game a fortnight later as Spurs won 3 – 1, the lasting memory is of Bale once again racing from his own half, down the left wing as chants of “Taxi for Maicon” rang from the White Hart Lane stands with the Inter defender lying prostrate on the ground. The Inter defender and his colleagues failed to prevent Bale putting in a perfect cross for Roman Pavlyuchenko to score Spurs’ third goal of the evening in the final minute. Then, he had just repeated what he had done less than thirty minutes earlier when Peter Crouch had scored the second goal.
There was now no way that Bale would be leaving White Hart Lane – he was a vital part of the team that Harry Redknapp was developing to challenge the top four teams in the country. It wasn’t easy for Bale as defenders looked for ways to prevent him having an influence on the game and at times he was subject to heavy tackles and finding two or three defenders waiting in his way.
As the season drew to a close the high expectations and number of matches took their toll on all the players and Bale was finding it more difficult to be as effective as he struggled with niggling injuries. His season finished early following a heavy challenge against Blackpool but refreshed at the start of the season he showed added qualities in his game by playing from the right as well as the left and by having more freedom to play across midfield. This was best illustrated against Norwich City over the Christmas period when he scored the two goals which kept up Tottenham’s title challenge. The first came as he supported Emmanuel Adebayor almost as a second striker in the penalty area and the second was the result of a powerful run from the halfway line to out pace the defenders and lift the ball over the advancing goalkeeper.
Again, Spurs’ season tailed off, and many supporters were frustrated at Bale when he wandered away from his left wing role and especially when Redknapp used him on the right. The season ended in disappointment but Bale remained loyal to Tottenham and signed a four-year contract and Andre Villas-Boas took over as manager. It has taken time for Spurs to develop under the new coach but they have progressed towards the top of the table and while not producing the free-flowing football of seasons past, they have moved up to fourth and recorded a momentous win at Old Trafford earlier in the season. It was Bale’s pace and direct running which terrorsed the United defence and was the corner-stone of that victory. Much of what was good about Spurs centres around Gareth Bale who has scored 10 goals this season.
In Bale’s absence, Spurs have lacked that impetus to cause a problem to their opponent’s defence but Bale demonstrated what he can bring to a game with his hat-trick against Villa. There are always going to be clubs wanting to sign a player of Bale’s ability but Tottenham want to hold on to their player, knowing that the progress and development of the team relies heavily on their exciting young player. Bale appears to be a very settled young man and he is always the last Tottenham player to leave the pitch at White Hart Lane as he acknowledges the supporters on all sides of the ground before leaving the field. It is to be hoped that that will continue for some time more for Spurs and that Bale and Spurs under Villas-Boas can bring the success that supporters crave.