Gareth Bale was once derided as Spurs’ unlucky charm, having gone 24 games for the club without a victory when he first joined from Southampton. But the young Welshman has shown that he can compete with the best and win the biggest of games for Tottenham, embarrassing some of the world’s best defenders in recent weeks. But how good can he be? The chances are that he’ll go all the way to the top.
Will there ever be another David Beckham? This is a question I used to ponder, thinking about his unique mix of technique, passing ability and tendency to play the long ball. But more than that, his deadly accuracy. The way he’d curl the ball carefully into the corner of a goal.
I got my answer in 2007, watching Southampton in the Championship, and a young guy called Gareth Bale. So accurate were his free kicks, his passes and his shots, he gave the impression of a young David Beckham. But with pace! Beckham of course, was lamented as predictable, as Bale has been too by the harsher critics in recent days. What that misses is the point that if you are that predictable, yet still able to perform with the consistent brilliance of Beckham then or Bale now, then you need to be exceptionally measured and accurate.
And that is what Gareth Bale is. Predictable he may be, but so good is he at what you predict he’ll do that you still can’t stop him. It’s one thing knowing he’s going to try and out-run you and cross the ball, it’s another thing trying to stop him without skewing the shape of your team by drawing a second player out of position. And if you’ve been impressed by his crossing, shooting and pace, wait until he gets some free kicks in dangerous positions. He has phenomenol accuracy, and at St. Mary’s it would be more surprising to see a free kick of his miss the target than go straight in. And if he didn’t score, it would usually clip a post or avoid the target by a couple of inches.
Whilst Bale and Beckham seem to be two peas from the same British pod on the pitch, off it they are completely different. Beckham married a spice girl, Bale dates a Welsh girl, who he’s known since childhood. Whilst Beckham uses his time out to promote his global brand, Bale pops home to Cardiff to see his mum, and lives in a small normal house like you or I, a far cry from Beckingham palace.
It’s easy though, particularly after one or two scintillating displays such as those Bale has put on, to reach for one superlative too many – to overhype him. Some have called him the Welsh Messi. He’s not. But in Bale’s case, most of the superlatives, most of the acclaim is justified and does not go over the top. He is a guy who won’t get carried away with the fame, and who is destined to make it big. You could see it as a 17 year old, and now as a 21 year old the sense that this is a special talent destined for the top has only strengthened.
Comparing him to Beckham is quite a big jump, but it is a comparison Bale has earned, and can justify in the years to come. Without the desire for celebrity and fame that consumed the Englishmen, and with twice the pace, there is no reason to believe he can’t go on and become one of the world’s very best.