Home and Away

Gareth Bale a victim of UK media hyperbole

Spurs' young Welsh goal-scoring machine Gareth Bale still has a way to go to be seen in the same light as the giants of La Liga

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 March, 2013, 5:23am

Spare a thought for Arsenal right-back Bacary Sagna this weekend.

If fit, the Frenchman faces the task of restraining Gareth Bale in the crucial north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow at White Hart Lane.

Sagna will be in direct opposition to Bale … "The Beast" "Brute" "Predator", etc … who, should you have been holidaying on Mars, is the player of the moment.

He has developed into a fearsome goal-scoring machine and is next best thing, as some are claiming, since Cristiano Ronaldo, the player he admits to emulating.

His recent spell-binding form and his rapidly rising goal tally have the stalwart contending for player of the year, and amid the Bale mania he has been afforded demi-god status. Use of his name in the same sentence as Ronaldo and Lionel Messi does not risk peals of mirth, at least in Britain.

His stunning 30-yard strike against West Ham during the Monday night EPL game silenced not just Upton Park but the millions watching. The goal was just the latest of an array of rapier-like jaw-droppers and the catalyst for the praise and gilded comparisons. Bale has undoubtedly come of age under Andre Villas-Boas and appears unstoppable.

The winner against West Ham was his ninth goal in his past six games across all competitions - most point-grabbing belters that stun the opposition into submission.

His dead-ball strikes are equally destructive and defenders and goalkeepers shudder when Spurs appear on the weekend fixture list while the other half of north London groan hourly in envy and despair.

Cheque book have reportedly been flipped open across Europe and soccer writers have reached for their Thesaurus' to explain the new sensation as he struts and sizzles across the EPL and Europa League.

Indeed, there have been enough superlatives and hyperbole heaped on Bale this past week to fill all the famous valleys of his native, mountainous Wales and fellow Spurs player Scott Parker said words did not come close to describing the Welsh international during his blistering ascendancy.

But there is a danger of being sucked too far into the Gareth Bale-praise vortex. Other domestic EPL stars afforded the same reception have too often fizzled out to become just plain excellent rather than true greats. To appreciate Bale as he continues to develop it is perhaps best to simply watch and enjoy a player transformed and let the numbers do the talking.

He was deployed as an emergency striker during Spurs' pre-season tour of the US last summer and showed he was an exceptional force of nature if offered an attacking, free-wheeling role. So the team has been built around him and the return has been phenomenal. He has notched 23 goals this season for club and country, scoring four in consecutive EPL games.

He also has a hat-trick of last-gasp clinchers which have propelled Spurs to third in the EPL and helped march them towards a possible Europa League cup date and a destiny with Europe's top-tier competition next year. He is credited with claiming 15 points and without his left boot Spurs would be languishing in obscure ninth, one place above Stoke and one below Swansea, instead of elbowing Chelsea out of third.

He is a one-man demolition team in the danger zone - more so when deployed alongside Emmanuel Adebayor. And sure, his ruthless streak has made him a more selfish player with less assists and passes.

Yet he is the only midfielder on the continent to have had more than 100 shots this season and Spurs are clearly the better for his self-indulgence.

Taking a wide player and moulding him into a centre forward is as risky as it is rare. Alex Ferguson did the same with Ronaldo at Man United, often playing him through the middle and shifting Wayne Rooney out wide. And it is with Ronaldo to whom Bale is being compared in the insular hyperbole of the British media.

Yes, there are similarities but it is a hard sell. Bale does possess the same combination of height, pace, physicality and power to cause havoc. But Ronaldo is technically more adept and a more accomplished goal scorer.

And when the Portugal star moved to Real Madrid in 2009 he was a Champions League winner and three times an EPL champion.

You can see Bale as a good stunt double if one was ever needed for the "Cristiano: The Movie". But as transformed as he and though hard to find fault, there remains room for improvement.

His ability in the air is lacking and crucially he has yet to become a two-footed maestro like Ronaldo. And should he be snapped up by a foreign team come the summer, his technical flaws might be exposed in the more artistic environs of the Spanish league.

Bale is a brilliant new star but he is still a solar system removed from the bright suns of Li Liga and to suggest he is already treading on the bootlaces of Messi and Ronaldo is pushing the envelope into fantasy.

Of course, he would blossom in Spain and Daniel Levy, Tottenham's shrewd chairman, will find it hard to resist the offers of £40 million (HK$470 million) and upwards once the bidding starts.

The figure of £70 million is being bantered about and if he stays injury free, he will almost certainly become the most expensive player in British history by the end of May.

But it would be better that he stayed at Spurs and helped them achieve true greatness and his maximum value. At 23, time is on his side after all.

Meantime, as we prepare for another instalment of the riveting Gareth Bale show tomorrow, do also spare sympathy for Arsenal defender Carl Jenkinson, 21.

He is on standby to replace Sagna for a second successive weekend if his senior fails to pass muster.