New Hope, New Hype

by Sam Wheatley

Thursday, October 21st, 2010
 

Tottenham last night made a remarkable almost-comeback against Internazionale of Italy in the Champions League, and there was one man that was regarded as the primary catalyst for that was a 21 year-old Welsh winger named Gareth Bale.

The ITV commentary team last night lustily salivated over Bale’s exquisite hat-trick, even going as far as to call him ‘the best left-winger in the world’ – endemic hype attributed to any young player that shows any promise in the British game. And whilst I think that Bale has tremendous amounts of potential, I’m not convinced that he’s the best left-winger in the world by any stretch of the imagination.

He has come a long, long way since his days as a left-back at Southampton, and indeed since being a left-back at all. Presumably it was his athleticism that had him placed on the left side of the defence – it certainly wasn’t his positioning or tackling that saw him play the majority of his first-team games for the south coast club at left-back. At Spurs, he was tested out in that same position, but found wanting (he was very young at this point, it must be remembered) – the fickle Spurs fans dubbed him a bad luck charm, and the youngster failed to hold down a regular first-team place.

The Welshman clearly made conscious attempts to improve, and still at only 21 he has refined his skills and the change of position enforced by Harry Redknapp is reaping enormous dividends for club and player alike. He now appears to be not just strong, quick and agile, but skillful, technically adept, composed and possesses still an excellent set-piece. Since roughly January 2010, Gareth Bale has come on leaps and bounds, compounded by some stunning goals this season, including a hat-trick against European champions Internazionale. Not a bad way to introduce yourself on the big stage.

Refusing to learn from the mistakes of the past though, the British media will be going bonkers for Bale today, chucking all sorts of labels at him, tagging him as the new Ryan Giggs or wishing he was English, and so on and so forth – indeed it took Townsend a matter of seconds after Bale’s first goal to announce him as one of the best left-wingers on the entire planet. For Bale however, it may be something of a blessing that his nationality lies to west of the United Kingdom.

If he were English, we’d now all be looking at him to lead us through the next thirteen years of competitive international competition, praising his brilliance and when off form, harshly criticising him. Not being English is probably what has kept Ryan Giggs’s enthusiam ripe for all of these years, kept him adaptable and flexible. Let’s not forget that Giggs went through a bit of a dodgy patch in his career, as all developing players do.

Labelling and hyping Bale is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there will be a short-term boost to his confidence which may lend itself to his run of form continuing for a while yet. On the other hand, you’re looking at a 21 year-old that now has more responsibility and pressure on him to deliver in every single game, which could have a negative impact on his development. Perhaps we should leave him until he is in his mid-20s, and then start chucking superlatives at him.

Unlike many of his contemporaries in the British game, Bale is likely to start most games for Spurs. We’re quite an impatient nation in that when someone shows a modicom of talent, they’re thrust directly into the spotlight and asked to perform. In most other countries, little is expected of young players until they hit 23, except for some exceptional cases, like Lionel Messi. Indeed, his Barca team-mate Bojan Krcic – of whom huge things are expected) has hardly featured at all since his introduction to the first team. That’s not to say he won’t be brilliant one day, but sometimes you have to hold back.

Also pay heed to the fact that there was another young player featuring on Inter’s left-side last night, the irrepressible Coutinho, who is only 18. The fact that he featured at all should tell you that he is a prodigous talent that we should keep our eyes on. The average age of foreign sides is significantly higher than in the Premier League, especially in Italy. Some Italian youngsters have complained that they don’t get a chance until the age of 23, but also remember that a lot of the world’s big names in years gone by have been pretty rubbish until their mid-20s. Zinedine Zidane, for example, was pretty awful until the age of 25 – he now stands as one of the true legends of the entire history of the game.

My point is that for all of Bale’s obvious talent (and Jack Wilshere’s, and Adam Johnson’s, and Phil Jones’s, and Kieran Gibbs’s), perhaps we should expect less of young players in this country and give them a wide berth before throwing all kinds of weighty comparisons and lavish praise at them. Gareth Bale may be one of the world’s best left-wingers one day, but we may never find out should we continue to expect so much of such young men.

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  • dexylongshot

    Firstly, i’d like to say that the title should be Monkey Magic because Charlton Hestons Nemesis Gareth Bale was outstanding in the 2nd half last night. He may have the jaw line of King Kong but he has the agility of a finely tuned Jaguar the way he patrolled and then attacked on the left last night. Fantastic stuff, who cares if it was still 4-3, we are talking about the European Champions here and and it ain’t often they let in 3 goals, let alone a hatrick to one player. Gareth Bale, taffy yid or not, I salute you, I hope you enjoy your time at Tottenham, make the most of it.

  • http://www.ukfootballfinder.co.uk Darren

    on current form he is the best left winger in the world, name me a better one?

    he’s been superb over the last year. he’s very exciting, direct and knows where the goal is, his crossing is also very good. The same can’t be said for Arron Lennon

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