The media hype surrounding Gareth Bale is getting completely out of hand.
The last couple of weeks pundits and journalists alike have been stumbling over each other’s efforts to shower superlatives and silly comparisons on Spurs’ man of the moment. Comparisons to the two best players of the current century have been rife.
Gareth Bale, despite not being English, seems to have been crowned the new poster boy of British football.
Sell, sell, sell!
Not long after the rumours about a possible departure popped up again. It all feels a bit like history repeating. It seems every time Spurs have an outstanding performer in their team the first thing the media seem to be thinking about is how to portray Tottenham Hotspur as a big shop window for supposedly ‘bigger clubs’.
Why should we sell our best player at the first opportunity? Are we a mid-table team these days? No. Are we skint? Not really.
If anything, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has shown strong resolve to fend off interest for our best players the last couple of years. From reporting Manchester United for tapping up Dimitar Berbatov, to stating Luka Modric was not for sale at any price. The Spurs chairman can hardly be accused of caving in at the first hurdle. He got top dollar for Berbatov from United, he blocked Modric’s move to Chelsea and retained the player for another season, before selling him to a team outside of the Premier League.
As usual the British media don’t want facts to get in the way of a good story. There is no way Tottenham can keep hold of a mercurial talent like Bale. Spurs are a selling club. They have sold their best player in every season since 1882. All players at White Hart Lane are being held to ransom by an elusive bald spectacled businessman with, surprisingly, no ties to organized Russian crime. Even QPR would have a better chance at Champions League football if Bale got injured. Spurs fans should enjoy the good times with Bale while it lasts. Villas-Boas is a clueless janitor who solely relies on God’s gift to football, The Bale-i-nator.
Some facts for you. Spurs haven’t sold a player to a top 6 Premier League team since 2008. Gareth Bale has a long-term contract until 2016. Spurs have successfully extended Bale’s contract two consecutive seasons in a row. In the time between the sale of Berbatov and Modric, Arsenal have sold Adebayor, Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie. In that same period Liverpool have sold Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso, Mascherano, Mereiles and Torres.
In reality, Spurs are no more of a selling club than their close competitors. Money is king in football and every club that is not bankrolled by a Russian or Arab oligarch is prone to falling victim of a silly money bid by the richest clubs in Europe.
This raises the question: which club could show serious interest in Gareth Bale?
Manchester City seem to have turned the corner in terms of mega money spending. The massive £97.9m loss over financial year 2012 meant they already halved their losses compared to the previous year, but City will have to balance the books to be able to comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules. After the departure of Mario Balotelli, signing another striker is likely to be their priority.
Chelsea have a wealth of midfield quality in Mata, Hazard and Oscar. Different kind of players to Bale, but they certainly don’t need to change their attacking midfield personnel.
Manchester United don’t seem to have the cash to spend £40-60m on one player. They do have the Premier League’s highest revenue but the club is still suffering under the massive costs of the leveraged buy-out of the club by the Glazers.
There are only 4 teams in Europe that could afford and attract Bale at this moment: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain. Barcelona will probably fail at the first hurdle as they refuse to pay anything over £30m for any player, yet they will try to unsettle the player and get him at a cut-price if they really wanted him. Real have paid in excess of £50m in recent years to acquire Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká. However, this was back in 2009 when Florentino Pérez was sworn in for his second term as Real Madrid president. It’s uncertain a similar Madrid spending spree of over £200m in one window will ever happen again. Paris Saint-Germain have already spent a lot of money on players in recent times. The signing of Brazilian winger Lucas Moura seems to rule out their interest in another wide player, with Jérémy Ménez and Ezequiel Lavezzi also capable of playing in wide attacking positions.
This only leaves Bayern Munich. Bayern is a massive club, often underestimated in terms of their financial clout. Bayern is the healthiest club in Europe financially. They posted a record revenue of €368.4m and a €11.1m net profit for the 2011/12 season. The club has been making a profit while remaining competitive both domestically and in Europe for 20 years. The club is currently cruising in the Bundesliga with a 15-point lead and is a strong contender in the Champions League. The news that Pep Guardiola would become Bayern’s manager as of the 2013/14 season surprised and shocked many, but it’s hard to think of a club with more potential to challenge the Spanish/English domination in the Champions League than Bayern, especially when Financial Fair Play kicks in.
Guardiola should definitely be interested in rejuvenating the current Bayern squad by bringing in younger top players. Despite the presence of pacey wingers Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben, Bayern could do with a fresh injection on the wings. Robben, aptly nicknamed The Man of Glass, is very injury prone and has been struggling to regain his place in Bayern’s starting eleven now the team is flying both in the Bundesliga and in Europe. Like Robben, Franck Ribéry is closing in on his 30th birthday, plus he has proven in the past to be an inflammatory character in the Bayern dressing room. All-in-all, an attacking midfield 3 consisting of Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller must sound irresistible to any manager really.
Still, it remains to be seen if Levy could be persuaded to part with his most valuable asset. Bale is becoming invaluable to ‘the brand’ Tottenham Hotspur. He is synonymous to Spurs like Messi is to Barcelona. The merchandise with his name on it is flying off the shelves. Although a product of the Southampton academy, Bale is the purest Spurs player to capture the imagination since Ledley King.
A player of Bale’s quality is extremely rare. Our current academy is producing some very promising talents, but the chances the next Bale is among those is really slim. To buy a ready-made replacement will certainly cost Spurs a record transfer fee and undoubtedly will take time to settle. We are still struggling to cope with the loss of Modric as our midfield metronome. To take another hit by losing Bale could seriously hurt Spurs’ chances of cementing itself as a permanent top 4 team. A goal that currently seems so close.
It’s virtually impossible to estimate Bale’s value in the transfer market. His price tag will certainly trump the price Real Madrid paid for Modric. Goalscoring flair players have always cost more than midfield playmakers. But right now, Bale is simply invaluable to Spurs. Even £100m will probably not make up for the hit the club would take both on and off the pitch if Bale was to leave.
Greed, hate, envy
A big reason why the British media are so infatuated with Bale’s recent success is the fact that it also riles other clubs’ supporters. Arsenal fans are going nuts when Bale is considered world class and some still think Theo Walcott (a player that used to be ridiculed by his own fans only 12 months ago) is a better player than Bale.
This envy sells papers, provides popular sports television entertainment, and sees websites rack up visitors to boost their ad revenue. It’s also gold dust for the annoying phone-in shows. They love a contentious issue which manages to rile their listeners to the point they feel compelled to part with their money in the hope of 40 seconds of radio fame, including being shouted down by the court jesters behind the studio microphone in order to get even more listeners phoning in (yes, it’s almost magic).
In reality the ones who have been comparing Bale to Ronaldo and Messi have solely been the members of the media. Why? Because hyping up British players simply sells. I have yet to come across a level-headed Spurs fan who really thinks Bale is on par with arguably the two best players the game has seen in the past 10 years.
Grass and sunshine
We only have to look at Luka Modric’s current predicament at Real Madrid to argue leaving for a bigger club is not all roses. Modric was an elite player at Spurs and was respected and admired by fans and pundits alike. Now he is just one of the many squad players at the Bernabéu. It’s hard for any player to turn down Madrid and it’s admirable Modric has managed to put in good performances in the few cameo appearances he was granted by Mourinho. Yet, it has to irk him he has gone from first name on the team sheet and play every game at Spurs to merely be an option and having to make do with second half sub appearances at Madrid. At least the Spanish weather is nice though.
Historically British players don’t travel well. In comparison to other nationalities, very few British players have had a successful career abroad. Take the Dutch national team for example, it’s incredible how many incredible Dutch players have made their name abroad at one of Europe’s elite clubs throughout the years. Cruyff, Van Basten, Bergkamp, Seedorf, Van der Sar, Sneijder, Van der Vaart, Van Persie, the list goes on and on. Without trying to touch upon the reasons why there’s such a difference, it has to be a serious point to consider for any British player before moving abroad, even for clubs who are interested in signing one.
So should the new poster boy of British football leave Spurs? As long as the club is keeping up with the development of Bale I don’t see why. He is only 23 and there’s plenty of time for him to try his luck at another club. This is why the constant stream of ‘will he, won’t he’ reports about Bale’s future annoy the life out of me. If every outstanding performer in the Premier League should move on to a bigger club they would all be playing for Real Madrid or Barcelona by now. It simply doesn’t work like that.
Right now, Spurs provide Bale with the best stage to improve his skills. His inclusion in the starting eleven is pretty much set in stone. He gets the freedom to expand his game from being ‘just’ a left winger to become a more complete attacking player. He works under a manager who values his brilliance and has improved him into an even more effective player this season.
The only things missing at Spurs at the moment are Champions League football and trophies. Bale could be instrumental in achieving those goals. But even he can’t do it alone, neither can Messi or Ronaldo.
Please, let’s remain realistic. Let’s stop the hysteria and acknowledge Bale is a great player, but not the greatest of all time. Spurs’ current league position is not down to one man, neither is the club’s upturn in fortunes over the last couple of seasons. Let’s put the comparisons to Ronaldo on ice until Bale reaches 25 league goals a season.