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The Fall And Rise Of Gareth Bale

 The Fall And Rise Of Gareth Bale

I’ve always had a soft spot for Gareth Bale. From his time at Southampton where he made quite an impression in the Championship, to his signing by Tottenham Hotspur, where he played brilliantly in his debut season and was explosive down the left wing. Plus whenever he had a chance to take free kicks for Spurs, they often found their way into the back of the net.

But then his career hit a brick wall precisely when Harry Redknapp took charge at White Hart Lane. Bale was played out of position as left back instead of left winger. Then he was demoted to the substitute’s bench. But even when he did play, he was constantly reminded of the cross he bore. Whenever Bale started, Tottenham had never won a league match in the Premier League.

While Bale’s form for Tottenham slumped, I marveled at the Gareth Bale that very few people saw. When he played for Wales, national team manager John Toshack played him in his best position as a left winger. Bale continued to cut in and out of the left wing and crossed in beautiful balls which constantly caused the offense plenty of problems. It was almost as if you were watching two different players. For Wales, he was often the best player on the pitch. For Tottenham, he was often one of the worst for a season, but again he was played in a position which wasn’t natural to him, as a left back.

At Tottenham, Bale slowly adapted to the left back position. But it wasn’t until this season, it seemed, that he won over his boss Harry Redknapp. ‘Ol Harry didn’t turn Gareth into the best left back in the world, but Bale certainly matured and improved in the position and is still competent as a left back whenever Tottenham needs help there.

But as we’ve seen in recent weeks, best exemplified by his sterling performance Saturday against Blackburn where he made Michel Salgado look like a League Two defender, Gareth Bale was born to be a left winger. Whenever he goes forward, he reminds me of a left winger of old. He dribbles far more than most modern wingers. Plus, he constantly floats in wonderful crosses into the box. And when he decides to take the ball himself and moves toward the box, he almost always opens up defences.

It’s almost as if Harry Redknapp is the stereotypical stubborn old grandfather, where he’s very set in his ways and takes a while for him to warm up to people. It’s not just Gareth Bale who has taken time to win over Redknapp. The same has happened to Roman Pavlyuchenko who has been on the wrong end of a similar fate to Bale. But Pavlyuchenko has definitely won over Redknapp and White Hart Lane now.

Both Bale and Pavlyuchenko add an edge to Tottenham Hotspur which makes the team much more dangerous on the attack. Peter Crouch, no matter how much I loved him as a player at Liverpool, is easy to defend against at Spurs whenever the long ball comes in over the top. But Bale has incredible pace and it’s much more difficult to defend a precision cross from him. At the same time, it’s difficult to defend against Pavlyuchenko when the Russian is on form.

The reemergence of Gareth Bale comes at a perfect time for Tottenham Hotspur as they continue their push to finish in the top four. While they have a tough schedule ahead of them with games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, it’s those games which will help determine whether Spurs deserve to be in contention for a Champions League spot. Historically, Tottenham has been awful against Big Four clubs. Maybe Bale can play a major role at changing history and turning Tottenham into a team to be reckoned with?

About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013. View all posts by Christopher Harris →
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19 Responses to The Fall And Rise Of Gareth Bale

  1. tigerwasp says:

    TWAT! Bale has always been a left back who occasionaly plays on the left wing

  2. man99utd says:

    Bale tortured all of Blackburn. His pace was incredible. Everytime he flicked the ball around the defender I thought, “What is he on about”, and then he raced past the defender with ease. His crosses into the box were brilliant as well. Easily one of Bale’s best matches. Only wish he was English.

  3. The Gaffer says:

    Bale can play both as a full back or left wing, but I think he’s a better fit as a left winger.

    Cheers,
    The Gaffer

  4. Dan Mac says:

    I honestly lose respect for anyone who believe Bale is better as a winger than a full back… he is good at both because he’s a world class talent in the making, but when he gallops from left back he has more space to utilise as the left midfielder is occupying the right back… leaving Bale untracked until he is already in the final third. He also picks the ball up from a standing start as a left winger and doesn’t have Giggs’ skill to be particularly useful from this position. As a left back he is becoming unplayable, as a left midfielder he is ‘just’ very good!

  5. Park Lane Spur says:

    I think it’s a bit harsh to say that his career hit a brick wall when Redknapp took over. Remember he had him at Southampton as a youngster so knew all about the talent he possesses.
    He had a great start under Jol but then got injured and sat out the rest of the season. He didn’t hit the headdy heights on his return that he is hitting now and the emergence of Benoit Assou Ekotto meant that he had to wait for his chance. He’s
    equally good al Left back or Left wing, defending is improving game by game and with his crossing ability Crouch should be nodding in at least 10 a season.
    Fantastic game again on Saturday and although Michel Salgado is about 79 years old he’s still a good player with a good defensive brain, Bale made him look his age.

  6. robert baptie says:

    Gareth Bale was always a left back at Southampton – a position at which he performed brilliantly!!

  7. Will says:

    I think arguing over the position thing is a waste of time. I used to ponder the same thing myself, but now I’m just happy that he’s playing so well, wherever he plays. And thanks to injury, both he and BAE get to play on the left side and so far their partnership seems to be working well. I also heard that Harry had Bale practicing one-on-one with the defensive trainer all last fall in preparation for BAE’s Africa Cup of Nations absence in January (which he missed anyway due to injury), but that explains his improvement as LB.

    Btw Gaff, what are your thoughts about the new FoxSoccer Plus? They are *really* p+++ing me off with their score ticker during live matches and especially replays. I really do not want to know the score of the game I’m watching if I missed it live or any other score in the league for that matter. It’s very unprofessional and unthoughtful of them. Comments?

    • The Gaffer says:

      Will, regarding the Fox Soccer Plus ticker, I have Comcast Cable so I haven’t seen it. That’s one good reason to watch the FS+ games on FoxSoccer.tv, which I do. There are no annoying tickers across the bottom of the screen.

      I’ll contact Fox today to ask them why they’re running the ticker on FS+. They should have learned their lesson after they got a ton of flack when they tried it on Fox Soccer Channel a few years ago.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • The Gaffer says:

        I contacted Fox last night and they said they’ve received similar complaints are are working on a system to fix the glitch that is showing the result of the game that is being aired.

        Cheers,
        The Gaffer

        • Will says:

          Gaffer,

          Thanks for looking into it!!! Been flooded under water so i’ve not had a chance to read epl talk in a few days.

  8. Lance says:

    Bale has always been a left back gaffer. You really should do your research before you write things like this. In fact, discussions have come up previously about converting him to a winger, and he has always expressed his desire to stay a left back, that’s what he prefers. In your response to a comment above, you state that he can play both, but you feel he is a better fit at left wing. That may be true, and a valid opinion, but you wrote the article using language that explicitly implies that he has been played out of position for years…That is simply not true. Additionally, he played left back for Spurs well before Redknapp took over, and it was his injury that allowed Assou-Ekkotto a shot at taking the starting left-back job.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Lance, my mistake there, most definitely. But he seems so much like a gifted left winger that I’m surprised that isn’t the position he favors since he’s much better there than at left back. Yep, I should have double checked before I wrote the article. Sorry.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  9. cy says:

    Bale is only playing LM right now because of Huddlestone’s injury. When Spurs are healthy, their best midfield is Modric-Hudd-Palacios-Lennon with Bale doing his thing from LB.

  10. Martin says:

    Benny Assou-Ekotto is clearly the better defender among the two though, so Benny needs to play over Bale at LB. “Modric-Hudd-Palacios-Lennon” – there’s no left winger in there. Modric excels more in the middle, and even when he plays LM, he’s not blowing by people and flinging in crosses like Bale. I’d like to see Bale get more time at LM/LW to see what he can do, b/c that Blackburn game was impressive. With all the injuries, it looks like he’ll get his shot to impress over the next few weeks.

  11. Django says:

    Gaffer, to say that he finds the net whenever he takes free kicks for Spurs is just not true. Did you mean the Saints? He’s scored 3 goals (?) for Spurs, none from free kicks.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Django, that may be my Welsh eyes wishing the ball went into the net, but I seem to remember him being very dangerous for Spurs and Wales on free kicks when he was on form for both club and country previously. Maybe it was Bale hitting the post or crossbar from the free kicks?

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • SamSpur says:

        Bale’s scored 1 free kick for Spurs. 2 years ago he scored the opener in the NLD at the Lane vs Arsenal (under Jol), which Spurs went on to lose 3-1; you’ll probably remember the 3rd Arse goal scored by Adebayor in that one, most people’s goal of the season that year.

  12. robert baptie says:

    I seem to remember Bale scoring with nearly every free kick he took at Southampton, but I think he scored 4 from free kicks out of his total of 5 goals in 45 appearance for the Saints. Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxlphjL3VZY

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