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The re-emergance of Gareth Bale

Inter’s much lauded Brazilian right back Maicon had barely finished trembling from the ferocity of a second half onslaught of seismic proportions when his tormentor told the assembled press on Thursday that he ‘was still learning’. The truly terrifying thing for Maicon, Internazionale and, indeed, everybody else in the Champions League or Premiership, is that Gareth Bale is absolutely right.

Bale’s progress over the last year is nothing short of astonishing. 12 months ago he found himself injured, second choice as Tottenham’s left back to the Cameroonian Benoit Assou-Ekotto, and faced speculation that he was on his way out of White Hart Lane, with a loan move to Birmingham being mooted by certain sections of the media. Fast forward to last week and Bale was single handedly dismantling the defence of the European and Serie A champions, a defence that conceded only 9 times in winning the Champions League last season, and was having his value estimated at 25 million Euros by the Italian press. After Bale’s performance against the Italian side Harry Redknapp said simply ‘Gareth has not got a value, he’s not for sale’.

Bale's second half hat-trick lit up the San Siro
Bale’s second half hat-trick lit up the San Siro


So what changed? Well, most obviously, his position. Signed very much as a left back, Bale found himself playing on the wing soon after returning from injury to the Spurs side at the start of the year. In part this was down to the Croatian Luka Modric. Undoubtedly the sides chief playmaker at the time, his presence on the left nevertheless unbalanced the team somewhat. The solution, it seemed, was to move Modric inside and blood the young Bale on the left of midfield. By April Bale had made the position his own, with winning goals against both Arsenal and Chelsea within the space of a week, as Spurs marched towards a top four finish.

The second factor in Bale’s transformation to world superstar is his physical condition. Whilst Bale has always been regarded as a tireless individual, he seems to have bulked up somewhat since his injury lay off, and this has leant weight to both the defensive and attacking sides of his game. Whilst in the past Bale has struggled to assert himself on a match he now has the frame to make him as competitive as he is talented. Despite this physical development, the fear now has to be that Bale will inevitably burn out. Redknapp has said that ‘He’s tired… he’s nearly empty but, hopefully, there’s a little bit of petrol in there.’ Redknapp then clearly recognises this possibility, but, on the other hand, in this kind of form how could you risk dropping him?

Signed 6 months after Theo Walcott moved to Arsenal, for a long time it seemed as if Bale was destined to live in the shadow of his former Southampton team mate. Indeed as Bale made his debut for Wales Walcott, at the tender age of 17, was being named in England’s 2006 World Cup squad. Though Walcott failed to make an appearance in Germany he soon made the world sit up and take note with his hat-trick in Zagreb in September of 2008, whilst Bale was in the beginnings of a record breaking run of 24 competitive appearances in the Premier League without registering a win. Whilst Walcott’s international career has sadly faltered of late, Bale has gone from strength to strength. In fact if we look at their international records it is now Bale who is the more experienced, with his 27 caps to Walcott’s 14. Perhaps more surprisingly they are now level in terms of scoring, with 3 international goals apiece. Bale is also now an established name for Wales, and is arguably one of the first names on the team sheet, so popular is he amongst his countrymen.

With 27 caps to his name Bale is now also an established international for Wales
With 27 caps to his name Bale is now also an established international for Wales


Part of Bale’s appeal of course is that he seems to be such a nice, quiet, even shy, young man. Comparisons to Ryan Giggs are inevitable, and not just on the grounds of nationality and position. They both carry with them a demeanour of respectability that, in the face of ever increasing tabloid revelations over the private lives of other professionals, is genuinely refreshing. It is wonderful to see that Bale now appears to be fulfilling his potential. Wales caretaker manager Brian Flynn has said of Bale ‘I told him when he was 15: “You’re going to be extra-special”. He can get better as well, and he will.’. For right backs everywhere this is a terrifying prospect, but for those of us free to enjoy Bale’s marauding performances from the stands or the sofa it is a delight to even consider that Bale can improve on the brilliance he has already shown.

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