Writer and Journalist, Adam Powley, guest writes for The Fighting Cock as he gives his view on the Bale escape and what’s left behind.
Relief. That’s the emotion many Tottenham fans will no doubt be feeling – relieved that the deal is finally done. A protracted, occasionally dispiriting and often tedious saga has reached some kind of conclusion with the news that Gareth Bale has finally left Spurs to sign for Real Madrid for a mind-boggling £85m. The story won’t end there, of course. Stand by for endless updates on how he’s settling down in Spain, how he’s not settling down in Spain, how Cristiano Ronaldo has given him the evils in training, and all the rest of the self-replicating gossip masquerading as sports journalism that now consumes too much newsprint, endless hours of looped TV and whole cyber-universes of web space.
We should be prepared also for the sniggering derision when Tottenham don’t win a game and that well-worn ‘Spurs are a one-man team’ line is wheeled out. They aren’t. No team ever is, by definition. The new-look Spurs, shorn of their most eye-catching talent, will need time to adjust and find new ways to unlock opposition defences, but the club will probably tick along just fine. Great players come and go, but the teams they leave behind are not exactly prone to going out of existence.
Away from the bluster however, there is some genuine sense of loss. Bale’s departure means that there will be a special individual talent missing from White Hart Lane and the Premier League this season, and that’s a cause for lament. Bale has been a pleasure to watch, one of those rare players who can make even the most bitter cynic rediscover a giddy enthusiasm for the game.
Bale in full, thrilling flow, tearing up the flanks, cutting in to leave defenders in his wake before unleashing a ripping long-range drive that all but bursts the back of the net, may read like a fanciful Roy-of-the-Rovers comic strip. But it was a regular and very real sight throughout last season. It was far too early to call him a club legend but for some of us he was the most entertaining Spurs player since Glenn Hoddle.
A few years back an Arsenal-supporting friend (we’ve all got one) said that watching Thierry Henry gave him a pleasant reminder of why he enjoyed seeing his team play for the sake of playing, rather just joylessly willing them to win. I felt the same way about Bale. For me the most cherished examples of his glee-inducing talent were the famous hat-trick display at the San Siro which rescued Spurs from a 4-0 Champions League gubbing by Inter and turned the game into something approaching a glorious 4-3 failure, and the 3-1 win in the return in which he was literally unplayable.
[authquote text="It’s funny how every major player at Spurs in recent years, from Berbatov, to Modric and now Bale is supposedly an absolute bounder who throws toys out of the pram to get their way."]
It was of course these performances that put Bale on the map and on the radar of the big clubs who had either the prestige or the financial muscle (or more pertinently combinations of both) to woo him to their cause. It felt like it was only a matter of time before Bale was spirited away with the lure of enough gold to fill several thousand pairs of lucratively sponsored boots, and promises to tempt him with a stage befitting his newly vaunted status.
If that smacked of slightly inflated airs and graces about being too good for Tottenham it was nonetheless the football food chain in ruthless action. Spurs took him from Southampton and provided him with a step up. Some Tottenham fans might not like it but Real Madrid are now doing pretty much the same. It’s how it works, and guess what? The money from the Bale sale has been used by Spurs to do to other clubs broadly the same thing Real Madrid have done to them. And so the cycle continues.
I suspect most Spurs fans don’t have a problem with that. What probably has antagonised is not this basic rule of the football jungle but Real Madrid’s antics (some “Special Relationship”), and now Bale’s own reputation, which has been tarnished by the supposed lack of dignity he showed as the deal reached its end. This stuff sort-of matters but forgive me if I don’t read too much into a lot of what’s being rumoured. It’s funny how every major player at Spurs in recent years, from Berbatov, to Modric and now Bale is supposedly an absolute bounder who throws toys out of the pram to get their way. There’s a story to be spun and believed here, as per, and bitter experience has shown time and again not to take things at face value.
That said it’s a futile exercise in second guessing actions and motives because short of being Bale, Daniel Levy, Florentino Perez or the further-enriched agent Jonathan Barnett, no one really knows the full story of what happened. Even then it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that when Bale heard he was “furious”, he had to check with Barnett if that was the case. Modern elite club football is a murky business run on greed. Deals are done that don’t always smack of the utmost integrity, and all clubs will have happily worked with some less than admirable characters throughout their summer dealings. (If you have a strong stomach take a look at the SSN interview with Barnett and his colleague David Mannaseh for a peek into this world of smug self-satisfaction).
[authquote text="Despite the transfer record being broken three times in a hectic summer and a good portion of the cream of young European and South American talent now wearing lilywhite, it’s regrettable that Bale hasn’t stuck around to join in the fun."]
The likelihood is that no one knows for certain what was going through Bale’s head as his big getaway loomed. He strikes me as a pretty cagey type who considers his options and keeps cards well and truly close to his chest. I met him about a year ago, interviewing him for a book on Spurs in Europe. It was an official club project about a feel-good subject, so the questions were hardly on a par with Woodward-and-Bernstein style probing in search of a devastating truth. Bale was polite, considered and smart. He clearly thought about the game and his part in it, but wouldn’t venture beyond a careful football-only line and steered well clear of any potential controversy.
In view of that it seemed a bit odd that someone who has played such a deft hand would make such a potentially cack-handed PR move in throwing a hissy fit. Taken at face value it leaves him looking like just another footballer, when he is anything but where it matters, i.e. on the pitch. It was also a distraction from a broader truth. The money for Bale has funded an unprecedented Tottenham splurge the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Terry Venables was doing his late 1980s Loadsamoney tribute act. The Bale legacy won’t be a petty and inconclusive supposed dispute about missing training, but one that means Spurs may now have a potentially better all-round squad because of his departure rather than despite it.
Despite the transfer record being broken three times in a hectic summer and a good portion of the cream of young European and South American talent now wearing lilywhite, it’s regrettable that Bale hasn’t stuck around to join in the fun. But the signs for Tottenham look more promising than they have for a generation.
I’ve always thought the implicit deal about being a Spurs fan is enjoying the journey without ever quite reaching the destination. The point is to have a go – to challenge, to think big and aim high, not meekly accept our supposed place in the world. It’s taken too long for Enic to live up to this aspect of the club’s reputation. They had a catch-up exercise to perform after the Sugar wilderness years, and have operated at a financial disadvantage behind those clubs that had seized the opportunities provided by the Premier League and the Champions League. But a club of Tottenham’s size and tradition, based in a capital city so alluring to new recruits, and with such a large fanbase paying such high ticket prices should never struggle – yet Spurs have certainly underachieved in the last 20 years.
Now, finally, Tottenham have shown some ambition and regained a bit of the club’s old swagger. Have they done the right thing? The consensus appears to be that Levy has conducted fantastic business. As my colleague Martin Cloake has consistently and convincingly argued, there was a compelling business as well as football reason to keep Bale to his contract and make him stay at the Lane.
The club have made a different choice, effectively buying a new team, thanks to the astronomical fee paid for a 24-year-old who may not be the modern great many assume. Once again, the Tottenham books have been balanced (allowing the proviso on wages). Good business on paper, but as a wise old football head once sort of said, the game is played on grass, not a sheet of A4, with Sunday’s defeat at Arsenal providing a jolting reminder of this fundamental truth. And it is the football that really should still matter, not the business.
The complicated dealings have not all worked out to Tottenham’s advantage. The “special relationship” between Spurs and Real Madrid is looking more and more like the one-sided Anglo-American geopolitical original it aped, and it didn’t stop Arsenal making arguably the best signing of the summer in Mesut Ozil, nor Real Madrid trying to loan Contrao to Man Utd. As ever with such transfer window brinkmanship, the outcome of the manoeuvres can quickly veer from tactical success to strategic blunder.
The Spurs squad does appear to be stronger in depth; but arguably the plaudits Levy deserves more are for the appointments he has made and his commitment to them – two factors that have been in question in the previous 12 years of the Enic regime. Always a devotee of the Director of Football-Head Coach management structure, Levy finally appears to have got the right men in place who can work together, and a duo whom Enic are prepared to properly back. Franco Baldini’s supermarket trolley dash has quickly shown what can be achieved with a proper contacts man with a budget.
The young head coach also merits praise. AVB’s job title says much about his actual role. He’s not the guy in clear charge; the domineering, all-encompassing manager type of old. He has now been backed. But faced with a transfer out of his hands and the loss of his best player – one who previously went public in declaring how much the coach had improved his game – AVB could have been forgiven for airing his frustrations as the frenetic activity and intrigue veered from giving him a strong hand to one that would be conspicuously lacking in aces.
Instead he’s got on with the job, keeping the team focused and prepared for the season. He’s tried to avoid rising to any bait, and hasn’t indulged in the increasingly boring ‘mind games’ that so many other managers (and too many consumers) think are a valid sporting currency. AVB has shown himself to be a decent bloke, and deserves the chance to see the promise of this new Tottenham squad fulfilled.
[authquote text="Spurs took him from Southampton and provided him with a step up. Some Tottenham fans might not like it but Real Madrid are now doing pretty much the same."]
The big question now is will it be? Spurs have been a stepping stone for players coming to the Premier League, so if they really mean business, the club will need to ensure the likes of Lamela and Eriksen don’t follow the well-worn path trod by Berbatov, Modric and Bale before something of substance is actually achieved. We’ll all have to wait and see as to whether the right calls have been made by all and sundry – sharp work in the transfer market is a means to an end, not an end itself, despite what might be inferred from some of the reactions. Tottenham fans are going to need to be patient – yet again. But this time those jam-tomorrow promises look to have a bit more substance to them.
Bale won’t be part of that story, now, but I wish him well, a sentiment beautifully expressed by the always-readable Spurs blogger Alan Fisher. Bale has made his choice to swap a young team that looks to be on the up for a big challenge at the world’s most storied club.
Along with a bundle of money, of course. I don’t begrudge him that. It’s a fantastic opportunity that will set his family up for life and I can’t resent him seizing the chance. Aspiration isn’t a dirty word. Bale’s showing it and maybe – at last – Spurs are showing a bit more of it as well.
[author name="Adam Powley" avatar="http://www.thefightingcock.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/AP-photo-small.jpg" twitter="adampowley" website="adampowley.wordpress.com" tag="AdamPowley"]