As I watched the 2011-12 Spurs campaign unfold, a curious thing happened. The one-time LWB and current left midfielder Gareth Bale, started to roam across to the central part of the pitch. The most feared left midfielder in the Premiership (Sorry Juan Mata) is all of sudden occupying land in unforeseen territory.
Was this by accident? Why is our most potent attacking force playing out of position when he’s arguably the strongest player in your league at that very same position? This curious aberration soon became an every game reality. It was against Norwich when he terrorised down the middle, bagging a lovely brace. His second a lovely worked goal as he marauded down the pitch, in possession, and sent a majestic dink over the keeper to secure a three points. From there, this new central role grew, and so did the Welshman’s game. Moving seamlessly to open spots and playing a confident possession and passing game with the likes of VDV and Modric.
Name any spot on the pitch and Bale can find a shot that can be lethal in power or equally encompass a touch of finesse. His game continued to evolve.
Retaining possession: attacking via 1-2s: Bale was showing a very sound technical ability. Here’s me thinking he was simply all about pace and strength. Wasn’t all about his technical ability, he continued to have an eye for goal. Cue his lovely left foot shot at the Eastlands standing exactly in front of the box in the central part of the pitch. Name any spot on the pitch and Bale can find a shot that can be lethal in power or equally encompass a touch of finesse. His game continued to evolve. Spraying passes to the wings, his technical game exponentially grew, and with it, a whole new dimension within the side was born.
Of course, at around that time, things began to fall apart in terms of consistency and belief. We witnessed some damaging results with a fair share of games that didn’t go our way (away to City, home to United, away to Everton). This was compounded by some questionable formational strategies by Arry (at Liverpool, Arsenal, Sunderland). It was time to “Mind the gap” and protect this massive 3rd place points lead. Time to dig deep. To focus. Any distractions then? Ask Arry, England’s future manager all but a formality. Not to mention that our target striker couldn’t find the back of the net other than from the penalty spot. As this unfolded, the whispers began to incite infighting amongst fans. Finger pointing.
Who else is to blame? Who is playing out of position? Who is spending too much time in the centre and not enough on the left in his more natural position? Was it a valid argument? With how the season began to transpire, it has some merit. Then again, did our opponents not play a role in this as well, focusing their defensive attention entirely to the left side of the pitch? If you’re going beat us, it’s not going to happen from the left side of the pitch. In the end, why have one of your most skilled players and arguably our most dynamic player isolated on the left? Allowing him to roam wasn’t stopping him from being effective on the left because he would be isolated there if double marked. Let his game grow and evolve, allowing him to be more elusive. Bale clearly welcomed this scenario. Was it a little bit selfish? Probably, but who’s to deny such a talented players development. The problem, or the reason why it might appear to have been so erratic is because the strategic thinking behind him roaming wasn’t exactly great from Redknapp.
Plant Bale as a 2nd striker. Leverage that pace and strength in possession, but in a different part of the pitch. He clearly has the technical ability to thrive there.
Bale needs to continue to mix and match, play on the left and roam down the middle. But what if this is simply a bridge to another more controlled role in the side? This brings me to Bale’s future. IMO where he belongs is in the central part of the pitch. Let his game evolve further in order to maximize his total ability; dare I say in a Messi-type role for the club. Get past the actual Messi comparison. I’m not comparing the two players. This has more to do with his actual role. Plant Bale as a 2nd striker. Leverage that pace and strength in possession, but in a different part of the pitch. He clearly has the technical ability to thrive there.
Can he score?
I think its safe to say that the answer is yes.
From his foot or his head, he has a nose for it and the opportunities will come for him to succeed from a goal productivity standpoint. With consistent minutes upfront (or directly behind the leading forward) what is the long-term potential? He succeeded in becoming a world class left midfielder. Who’s to say he can’t accomplish that exact feat in an expanded role as a 2nd striker that clearly offers more opportunities of involvement to Bale on the pitch? In watching him this past year, it’s pretty obvious its exactly where he wants to play. He has a hunger to be more than just someone that provides crosses from the flank, even though he’s very good at doing just that. Which leads onto the obvious downside being the threat you lose from the left. He will need to be replaced. Plenty of candidates exist. Junior Hoilett would have been an obvious target (but no longer an option).
Another possible fix would be to look in-house to a few names like Gio dos Santos or even Steven Pienaar who never really got their fair shake at consistent minutes with the club to even know if they could thrive. If you look at their contributions with Mexico and Everton respectively and I’m personally sold on their future potential to the club. Why isn’t Harry? Let’s see what each player is made of and give them a legitimate shot at game time. Rather than bench them and lose them (like Niko, completely under-used and wasted).
Most importantly, and this might fly under the radar from some, moving Bale could further motivate the Welshman to stick around and stay at Spurs. Do you think if he goes to Spain he’ll be kept on the left? Or would be be allowed to blossom into a more all-round player? He seems to be enjoying his time at the Lane and playing this centralised role, so why not offer up this opportunity to bag some goals and let his game continue to evolve. Won’t happen over night which is why it might appear to be frustrating at the moment. The more the confidence grows the better the player becomes. I see a 20 goal season in the mix at the very least with this. We can truly maximize Gareth Bale’s potential as a Tottenham Hotspur footballer. As long as we are patient and forward-thinking with when and how its implemented.
[author name=”Philly Hotspur” avatar=”http://a0.twimg.com/profile_images/1684000795/IMG00056-20110430-1913.jpg” twitter=”PhillyHotspur” tag=”phillyhotspur[/linequote]