Why keeping Bale out of action makes good sense for Tottenham

Protection of a club's prized assets will always be a greater consideration than fans' pleasure

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 9:06am

Maybe it's the frightful state of the pitch at Hong Kong Stadium that understandably had the bosses at Tottenham spooked. Or perhaps Gareth Bale truly does have an injury.

Whatever the reason right now, I am tempted to believe that, with talk of a massive transfer fee offer in the range of £81 million (HK$967 million) from Real Madrid for the Spurs star winger, the last place we would see him would be on the sand box masquerading as a grass pitch for their third-place match against South China in the Barclay's Asia Trophy last night.

Reports are that he suffered a knock in training, a slight pulled muscle, which, if true, would seem to be a convenient injury.

And you can hardly blame the London club for being overprotective with not only their best player but by far their most valued asset.

The real losers here though are the fans of Hong Kong, many who put up their hard-earned money in hopes of seeing the Professional Football Association's player of the year.

After all, it is Bale's likeness on the posters for the event as well as on the cover of the programme. American Clint Dempsey might have a few fans and Jermain Defoe's number 18 kit could be seen throughout the stadium.

But Bale was clearly the marketing lynchpin for the event and the sad news is there is absolutely no recourse for both organisers and fans when he is a no-show.

How many of the fans who snapped up all 40,000 of the tickets in three hours for Monday's Manchester United match did so hoping to see Wayne Rooney play? I would venture at least half and, of course, Rooney, like Bale, is nowhere to be seen.

Ironically, Rooney's future at his current club, much like Bale's, is also very much up in the air.

Still, beggars can't be choosers and conventional logic seems to be that fans in Asia should be happy that they are at least getting a taste of high-end football.

For the top teams in the world, the off season is far too short and when you compound that with the glut of both domestic and international fixtures, it's no surprise that some of the rest from niggling injuries often occurs out here.

Of course, if it were up to Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas, Bale would not be the only no-show in Hong Kong.

"I'd prefer not to go ahead, but that's the reality we have to face," he said the day before yesterday's match. "We have to be professional and stand up for this tournament."

Tottenham even went so far as to bring in their own groundskeeper to help local crews.

According to some reports in the English media, Manchester United were also looking for possible escape clauses in their contract if the pitch deteriorates.

But barring a storm of biblical proportions there is little chance of that happening.

Perhaps it was the ongoing drama over the future of Bale or maybe just the general lethargy of a protracted off season, but the lacklustre performance by Tottenham last Wednesday in a 3-1 loss to Sunderland during the opening game of the tournament left a bitter taste in the mouths of many fans.

The team may not have the massive following around here of Manchester United or even Liverpool or Arsenal, but they still have a pretty fervent fan base in Hong Kong.

Fortunately, they more than redeemed themselves against South China in a dominant 6-0 victory highlighted by Jermaine Defoe's hat-trick.

Whatever reservations Villas-Boas had about the game beforehand, his team hardly carried them on to the pitch in a spirited, attacking performance that threw caution to the wind.

When the rain finally came with but 10 minutes to play, most of the regulars were still out there and still swarming around hapless South China keeper Zhang Chunhui.

After losing Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen to injury in the opening match of the tournament on Wednesday, Villas-Boas had to be relieved that his re-energised squad got out of here with no further damage.

The Spurs will head off to Europe to play in Monaco next Saturday, where their manager will no doubt be asked a number of questions about Monaco's interest in acquiring his services.

As far as Bale goes, who knows if the 24-year-old Welshman's injury will have healed by then or if he will even still be wearing a Tottenham uniform this time next week.

But despite his tenuous status, one thing is certain; fans in Monaco have a much better chance of seeing the Professional Football Association's player of the year than the fans in Hong Kong do.