March 12 2014 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Welcome to London24’s weekly column taking a frustrated look at the world of sport and having a good old-fashioned rant to get it off our chests. This week, beware that propaganda machine clicking into gear for next great hope Gareth Bale...
Those of a football persuasion have a great propensity to jump the gun.
Freddy Adu was the new Pele, Bruno Cheyrou was the next Zinedine Zidane and now Gareth Bale is Cristiano Ronaldo, the 4G Valleys edition. Or so we’re led to believe.
You may not recall the failed talents of the first two but there’s no escaping the current clamour to create a holy trinity where Tottenham’s shining light stands as an equal to Real Madrid’s real McCoy or his Ballon d’Or better, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
Naturally, the excitement surrounding the 23-year-old – particularly if you’re of a Spurs leaning – is at fever pitch. That’s unsurprising considering his match-winning exploits of late.
Indeed, his eight most recent strikes have accounted for his side’s last 10 goals, the most recent of which downed West Ham to move the north Londoners’ into third place in the Premier League.
With all due respect to the Hammers and the other teams Bale has laid waste to domestically this term, they are not the calibre of opponents that secure a player’s passage to the elite.
He has had an undeniably magnificent six months and noticeably since the turn of the year he has been winning games on his own. While this undoubtedly puts his name on the shortlist to join the best of the best, it’s a club that takes considerably more than half a year’s excellence to secure election.
For that he needs sustained exposure to the Champions League and/or top level international football. A solitary Welsh visit to the World Cup in 1958 does not suggest the latter will change any time soon.
"Let’s all just take a big, deep breath and gain some sense of perspective, because Bale isn’t yet Blighty’s answer to Ronaldo or Messi."
So, the Champions League it is then. There, again, the sign are good. Spurs’ only foray into the tournament saw Bale frighten the life out of both Milan giants. But that needs to be replicated repeatedly and while he’s going the right way about it, in terms of a return to Europe’s top table, this campaign has to be seen as an hors d’oeuvres to the promise of future feasts.
Even then, true greatness is not guaranteed. Take Steven Gerrard for example. Hero-worship is and will be forever etched on the psyche of the red half of Merseyside. Still, one man’s maestro is another man’s also-ran.
Barring partnerships with Fernando Torres (when he know where the goal was) and now Luis Suarez, Gerrard has spent a decade and more playing the one-man action hero, as Bale has in recent weeks.
His stock long ago moved into the world-class bracket by virtue of time and consistency, pulling out the really big performances either when the chips were down or the eyes of the world were upon him in Champions League and FA Cup finals.
Passes: (LS) 950 | (GB) 791
Passing Accuracy: 77.2% | 78.4%
Passing Accuracy opp. Half: 73.3% | 61.5%
Duels Won: 167 | 141
Duels lost: 278 | 159
Duels won: 37.5% | 47%
Aerial duels won: 10 | 37
Aerial duels lost: 26 | 54
Aerial Duels Won: 27.8% | 40.7%
Recoveries: 89 | 86
Yet when it came to picking the best English midfielder of his generation, bona fide great Zidane picked Paul Scholes. Opinion, ain’t it great?
So let’s all just take a big, deep breath and gain some sense of perspective, because Bale isn’t yet Blighty’s answer to Ronaldo or Messi.
His ascension to that platform will take time and will be a tricky path to tread. Just ask Brazil-based Neymar, who was billed as the South American answer to the main protagonists in the El Classico rivalry. Consistently linked with transfers to Chelsea, Manchester City et al, it’s all gone considerably quiet since his performance – or lack thereof - against England at Wembley last month.
Bale, though, does already operate in arguably the toughest top-flight league in the world and that’s why the hope, and indeed the hype, is so big. Even in a London24 poll the majority of readers have voted him as the best player in the Premier League, in the wake of his brace at West Ham.
It’s perhaps worth noting, while many seem set on prematurely declaring the former Southampton left-back a genius, that, statistically this season, Bale isn’t even as good as Liverpool’s Suarez.
Based on Opta figures the Uruguayan out-points the Welsh wizard in almost all aspects of the game from passing, to dribbling, to assists. It’s probably a small mercy for Spurs fans that boss Andre Villas-Boas thinks the Prozone style of management, based on numbers and figures, is “useless”.
But while the comparisons to Ronaldo and Messi show no signs of let-up, Bale rightly deserves the plaudits for his current form. Let’s just leave the grand proclamations until he actually stands as their equal through time and achievement, not before.