Once at the heart of an unlucky two-year winless streak at the start of his Tottenham Hotspur career, Gareth Bale’s stock has certainly risen since then and the Welshman is nowadays mentioned in the same breath as some of the world’s greats.
Spurs’ inability to qualify for the Champions League for a second season running however has cast some fresh doubts over Bale’s future at White Hart Lane. André Villas-Boas has outlined on countless occasions just how important Bale is to his team, but the lure of top European football at one of the continent’s major clubs could prove too attractive to the 23-year-old.
All eyes on the final day of this year’s Premier League campaign were heavily focused on the outcomes of the two games pitting North London against the North East. Tottenham – with their destiny out of their hands – did all they could by winning 1-0 at home to Sunderland; a trademark 30-yard screamer from Bale proving the difference. White Hart Lane would not be celebrating a top four spot however as news filtered through that Arsenal had secured a precious 1-0 win of their own in Newcastle to bag Champions League qualification and all the financial and psychological advantages that come with it.
Bale’s 21 league goals and nine assists deservedly won him the PFA Player of the Year Award, yet the one achievement he would have wanted at the start of the season eluded him and his teammates. The chance to play against world-class players in Europe’s best stadiums has evaded Spurs for a second consecutive season and Bale – also voted the PFA Young Player of the Year – is now facing another season of Thursday night football on Setanta Sports (or even 3e). For the 23-year-old, this could prove detrimental to his development; at the same age, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi had already won the Champions League.
Bale’s form throughout the season was at times scintillating. Given a free role by Villas-Boas, Bale capitalised on this opportunity to go on and dominate numerous games. Despite not featuring in this year’s Champions League, Bale’s form did catch the eye on the continent, with one man in particular publically stating his admiration: Zinedine Zidane. Zidane certainly knows what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the footballing world and as he is rising up the hierarchy in Real Madrid, his opinions on Bale may begin to carry more weight in the boardroom.
Bale has relished in the role of talisman for Spurs this season, but a top player can only try to lead a team for so long before trophy ambitions start to develop; just ask Robin van Persie. Bale could easily stay another year in North London making all the headlines, but the big question I ask is: how will next season differ from the one just passed? Spurs will be playing in the same competitions and although they will add more quality to their squad to alleviate some of the dependence on Bale, a title challenge still seems a little premature. Will next season not just be a case of the ‘same again’ for Gareth Bale? If he were to stay and if Spurs failed to win any silverware, would Bale’s loyalty to Spurs have been in vain?
In contrast, if Bale was to move away from North London this summer, he would easily be snapped by a top European team. He would be integrated into a squad with other world-class stars and the premium European competition of the Champions League would be his for the taking. Yes, he may not collect all the personal accolades he acquired this season, but when a footballer’s career is over, they are remembered for their trophies won as part of a team, not their individual crowns.
Both Daniel Levy and André Villas-Boas will be paying added attention to see who takes over the managerial reigns at the Bernabéu once José Mourinho departs. Real Madrid have been courting the signature of Gareth Bale for a while now and the Spanish capital looks the most likely destination for the Welshman if he were to leave Tottenham.
At times this season, people have run out of superlatives to describe some of Bale’s performances in a Tottenham jersey; the big question now is what jersey will he be wearing next season.