By Ryan Fleming
Three years ago I was searching for a reason to get into soccer. I was searching for something not so obvious, a player or a team hidden to the large majority that I could learn and eventually follow them like they were my own.
For one reason or another I came across Gareth Bale.
The short, but speedy Welshman appealed to me, pulling me toward the way he plays like a magnet. When then-Tottenham manager, Juande Ramos, basically benched Bale for his short campaign in the ‘08/’09 season (yes, the one Spurs started off with no wins in the club’s opening eight league games). The North London club proved ineffective and most plainly stated, boring. The lack of playing time for Bale helped lead to Ramos’s demise.
Ramos got the ax and in came a new life for Bale, a chance not just for the EPL to see what he can do, but for the entire world.
Harry Redknapp took the Spurs post on Oct. 26, 2008 – a date that should be stapled in the back of Bale’s mind. Though his resurgence didn’t begin as soon as Redknapp took the helm of Tottenham, Bale fought his way into Spurs’ UEFA Cup campaign and manged to earn himself 17 other starts for the club.
The ‘09/’10 season was the ladder-that-put-Bale-over-the-wall-season. It didn’t start off as that, though.
In June of 2009 Bale, a left back made winger, had knee surgery that slotted him to miss the start of the new season. After recovering from surgery, Bale still found himself, disappointed and frustrated on the Spurs bench because of the solid play by Benoit Assou-Ekotto. When Assou-Ekotto went down with an injury, Bale stepped up and proved to Redknapp that perhaps he is the player to fill the void of the underachieving David Bentley and Aaron Lennon.
Bale impressed Redknapp in the team’s 4-0 thrashing of Peterborough in the third round of the FA Cup and continued to see more time as the season went on. Earning Player of the Month in the EPL for the month of April, Bale cemented his spot in Redknapp’s starting XI from then on.
Signing a new, four-year deal with Tottenham in May was just a bonus.
Doing it himself
It is rare to see a player just take over a game, to single-handily push, even force his team to victory. But when Bale takes the field for Spurs, there is always that chance.
In this past weekend’s Champions League match against Inter Milan, Bale, with his team down 4-0, took the game into his own hands.
Tallying his first hat trick – two of the goals came in two minutes – Bale lifted Spurs, giving them a fighting chance and completing the improbable comeback. The game ended 4-3, but it wasn’t his team’s loss that was the story, it was the way one player took on the Europe’s best team last year. Bale blew by defenders, leaving them in his wake with confused looks and blushed, frustrated expressions.
“He’s an amazing young player,” Redknapp told soccernet.com. “He plays left-back, he plays wide left, he scores goals, he can run all day. Even first half, he gave the right-back a torrid time, I felt. The right-back’s one of the best right-backs in the world, possibly.”
That right back was the Brazilian great, Maicon, who can give opposing defenses a torrid of a time himself.
According to Spurs keeper Huerlo Gomes, Bale plays like a Brazilian – his flashy moves, fluidity and charisma are comparable to the country that has long been known for playing the game with a certain beauty
“I’m fitting more of what I have learned into games. That’s the most important thing – to keep playing week in, week out, because that’s where you learn your most football … in games,” Bale told to Sports Illustrated. “The manager has given me the belief to go out and express myself. That’s the best thing any manager can do.”
It appears as if Bale’s artistry is on the field – expressing himself. For Redknapp and the Spurs, letting Bale have his way, playing the game his way, could lead them a long, long way. If they can hold on to him.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at Ryan.Fleming@thesoccerguysonline.com