It has taken some time, but finally Tottenham are seeing the Gareth Bale that they hoped they were signing when they took the Southampton youngster to White Hart Lane in 2007.
The left-sided player was just 17 when he signed for Spurs and is still 18 months away from fulfilling the original four years that he committed to upon joining the club. Even so, it has proved a frustrating time for both the player and the fans, with it easy to forget Bale’s youthfulness when assessing the lack of obvious progression on his initial promise. All that has begun to change in the glare of the public eye recently, with the Welsh international grasping his prolonged opportunity in the Tottenham first team since being thrown in as a regular when Benoit Assou-Ekotto picked up an injury in January. Bale has regularly been one of the standout performers in the Spurs side in recent weeks. With his defensive game rapidly improving, he has added a solid base to the dynamic attacking abilities that have always been his trademark. Harry Redknapp may have been forced to pitch the 20-year-old in to battle through necessity rather than design, but he will have been delighted with the performances that his young charge has rewarded him with. Redknapp has not shied away from admitting that he felt Bale was not ready to be a regular at the top level when the ex-West Ham boss inherited him upon taking over as Tottenham manager. He felt that the former Saint still had a lot to learn to go with his natural ability and now the years of tutelage from the Spurs staff is paying dividends.
For a player who was nearly overlooked by Southampton due to doubts over his height, Bale has matured in to an impressive physical specimen whose 6ft frame gives him an added advantage over other leading left-backs such as Patrice Evra. With impressive pace on the overlap and in tracking runners, Bale has the potential to succeed in the fast-paced environs of the Premier League. The technical quality of his left-footed delivery has never been in doubt, but if there is one area he needs to improve on when attacking, it is his choice of final product. Playing in a more advanced role on the left of midfield in the weekend win over Blackburn, Bale continuously had the beating of ex-Real Madrid right-back Michel Salgado but his crossing was inconsistent. His ball for Pavlyuchenko’s second goal was inch-perfect but there were other times when he did not make the right decisions when in excellent positions. If he can add consistency to his game then he can be a massive danger from the Spurs left. If he continues to improve his all-round defensive game, then he would be best off employed as a left-back rather than in midfield. Bale has shown a willingness to make runs from deep and has the ability to either motor past right-backs on the outside or cut inside into shooting positions. Playing in midfield eliminates some of his effectiveness as he no longer has a winger to overlap, but his versatility is proving useful for Redknapp who currently needs a winger more than a full-back due to the injury problems at the Lane.
Bale is a textbook example of the dilemma faced by many young players that come through as shining graduates of youth academies at smaller clubs. Much like his former Southampton teammate Theo Walcott, Bale was hailed as the next big thing and was the subject of a clamour for his signature from big clubs. In the modern game where exciting talents are common knowledge almost as soon as they are out of nappies, the top teams are unable to wait to see how a player develops in case they lose out to one of their rivals in signing the young star. The choice for the likes of Bale is whether to continue playing regular first team football as a big fish in a smaller pond or to move where they will get the best coaching but may struggle to live up to the added demands that comes with playing at an elite club. Bale initially floundered under the increased expectations at Tottenham, with the patience that should be afforded to teenage prodigies negated by the multi-million pound price tags that they command. Injuries did not help in Bale’s case and he has missed chunks of his two and a half years at Spurs. Bale has had to be patient but his top class education at Tottenham is clearly beginning to pay off. With so much time still on his side, Redknapp might just have inherited a real gem.
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