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?