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The Return of Gareth Bale

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Injuries, goals, and injuries, in that order

Tottenham Hotspur - New Signings - Gareth Bale
Home sweet home
Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Gareth Bale started his professional career at Southampton, playing as a traditional left-back in a 4-4-2 formation. He moved to Tottenham in 2007 for an eventual fee of £7 million. It was there where the world saw Bale turn from Bruce Banner to the Incredible Hulk, an all-action roaring world-beater.

Bale’s manager at the time, Harry Redknapp transformed him into a more attacking player. According to Redknapp’s biography, Bale faced great competition from Benoit Assou-Ekotto, a player the Spurs manager regarded as “one of the best full-backs in the Premier League”. Bale, already on the ropes, was also considered “too soft to be a defender, so we decided to try him more further forward.” It was when he played in this role that the Premier League felt his electric pace, bullish power and eye for goal!

But it was not until 2010 that the world started to take notice of the young Welshman. Cast your memory back to that epic Champions League night at the San Siro when a young, relatively unknown Bale single-handedly tore apart a much decorated and successful Inter Milan team full of superstars. A hard hitting world class Brazilian right back who had a torrid evening at the hands of Bale, and the Nerazzurri had to sit and watch in astonishment at the jubilant Spurs faithful chanting “Taxi for Maicon!” Many believe, Harry Redknapp included, that it was this night that changed his career — Maicon’s, not Bale’s. The Welshman had announced himself onto the World stage, and the big boys, especially the two giants from Spain, eagerly looked on.

With great price tags come greater responsibility, true for Spiderman and our man Bale. On the 1st of September 2013, Tottenham could not resist the super powers of football, and had to sell their prized asset to Los Blancos of Madrid. Bale had sealed a move to Real Madrid for a then world-record transfer fee of €100.8 million, eclipsing the previous record fee of €94 million the club paid for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. Bale was regarded as the heir to Ronaldo’s throne at Real and would wear the crown for Los Blancos once the Portuguese Ballon D’or winner moved on or hung up his boots. Bale turned out to be more like Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace FC.

Whilst there have been moments of pure brilliance and sheer magic from the Welsh wizard, namely the Champions League final against Liverpool in 2018 where Bale scored a sizzling bicycle kick that dropped the world’s jaws, Spain has never really worked out for Bale. His honours at Madrid include 2 La Liga titles, Copa del Rey, Super Copa de España, 2 UEFA Super Cup, 3 FIFA Club World Cup, and 4 Champions Leagues. It is difficult to understand why his time at the Bernabeau has not been a successful one. Many players can only dream of the accolades that Bale has achieved at Madrid; but the fans, the president and mainly the manager (World Cup winner and France legend Zinedine Zidane) have not been too keen on the Welshman.

It could be that Bale has not lived up to the price tag of over a hundred million euros, or that he was not able to step out of the shadow of his predecessor Cristiano Ronaldo, or that management feels the Welshman would rather play golf than football. Injuries, illnesses and lack of form have blighted his time at Madrid, and his employers, especially his manager, have lost all patience with him. Zidane is simply not a fan, trying to offload Bale during both of his spells as manager at the Bernabeau.

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Style of play

Bale is known for his physical fitness, pace, strength, stamina, skill, heading ability, and agility. His acceleration, physicality, and athleticism allow him to exploit spaces and make runs behind opposing back-lines. Like Jack Bauer on his day, he is practically unstoppable.

He is a player who thrives when he has a full pitch to run into. He could do well against teams, most notably the “top six”, that want to attack Tottenham and leave space in behind. Jose Mourinho, a contributing factor for Bale’s arrival, will set up to play a counter-attacking system. The majority of the ‘lesser’ teams will look to play very compact and be difficult to break down, which could nullify his effect.

When a door closes, a window opens, and this could be the case against teams that sit back and absorb pressure, inviting Tottenham to have a go at them. Bale has the ingredients to find and exploit space to unleash that famous left foot of his, which is rumored to be insured for a whopping 100 million pounds! Many teams will want to take out the necessary breakdown cover or feel the impact of his left foot when he returns to grace the pitch at the new Tottenham Stadium.

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How Bale will fit in at Tottenham

In Mourinho’s usual 4-2-3-1 formation, Bale can play centrally as the number 10 behind the striker, or he can play right-wing with Heung-Min Son occupying the left. He could play on either wing in a 4-3-3, and in a 4-4-2, he can play up alongside Harry Kane, which Spurs fans have only fantasized about and will now hopefully get the chance to see. This mouth-watering combination has only ever been a conversation amongst Spurs fans when debating their greatest ever players. They will now have two of them playing side by side, hopefully complementing one another on the pitch. To accommodate Spurs’ top scorer, Bale will probably be used as right-winger to allow him to cut inside onto his favored left foot to shoot.

Harry Kane will thrive on Gareth Bale’s arrival and vice-versa. This season, Kane has adopted a less conventional role, dropping deep to collect the ball and making more assists than goals. While he has the tactical awareness to exploit space and bring others into play, a Harry Kane with his back to goal is far less dangerous than a Harry Kane bearing down on a goal and notch up 20 goals a season with his eyes closed. Gareth Bale will find space due to this style of play and hopefully add to his already legendary status at the club. Tottenham’s power trio will be a nightmare for opposing teams as the threat will come from all three, making them a perfect storm. Bale has the panache, skill and guile to take on two or even three players when he is in full flow and is ice cold when bearing down the goalmouth with one thing on his mind: which celebration should he use after coolly finishing? The goals will come thick and fast.

Speaking to Peter Crouch on his return, Bale highlighted the fact that he is not the young sprinter we once knew: “I won’t be running 90 yards every second.” He has evolved as a player; a cocktail of love from the fans plus familiarity of Tottenham will help him excel into a fantasy manager’s dream.

Conclusion

The early bird catches the worm. At 9.5 million he is a steal in FPL: He will be on free-kick duty, and he’s a serious aerial threat. He can help anyone get ahead in fantasy mini-leagues, and I believe every Tottenham fan will buy him simply for sentimental reasons! And that could soon trigger a price rise.

In Fantrax he has already dropped to the minimum price in each league, so if you think he plays, then he’s a mandatory replacement for the most recent midfielder to disappoint you.

He is currently rebuilding fitness after injury, so I would hold off the transfer until he is match ready. Bale is like Ed Sheeran: he goes away for a while and always comes back with a bang.

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Will Bale be the cannon or the golfer? Will you be putting Bale in your FPL team? What about Fantrax? And are you interested in just seeing him play in the EPL again? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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