There are many reasons for Bale’s hibernation in a Wales shirt this season. Their last home qualifier against Bulgaria, Bale started in his usual left-sided berth but was then shunted in-field, wandering behind Steve Morison, cutting an isolate figure. It was to be the last of a string of puzzling decisions by former boss John Toshack. Again, under the previous regime, Bale suffered from being part of an imbalanced system; partly caused by the assumption that Bale was capable of high level performances on demand. He is still young, still raw, a trait that actually makes him more exciting to watch but with every rampaging run that leaves a full-back in his wake will come a game where that space behind his opposite man is denied.
Bale’s importance to a nation that has not qualified for a major tournament since the 1976 European Championships is unquestionable, despite not replicating his club form. The atmosphere of the Bulgaria game seemed intrinsic to his performance – when Bale got the ball the noise levels, and expectation levels, elevated. Alas, as Bale was moved inside and his influence waned, so did the enthusiasm from the crowd. The Tottenham winger will be in control of the sound levels again at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday and should be a focal point in the Welsh game plan; especially when factoring in England’s recent problems at right-back.
The emergence of Bale as the leading hope in Welsh football is the sum of prolonged game time at Tottenham and the horrific injury to Aaron Ramsey – who held the mantle twelve months ago. And this is where Bale and Giggs differ. When the Manchester United wing made his international debut, and subsequently up until his retirement, he was the only one playing for a top club. The current Wales setup may seem less reliant on an individual now that Ramsey has returned to full fitness, and Craig Bellamy is expected to feature, but due to this season’s exploits Bale has accumulated enough experience to be considered a senior player- despite him still being a 21-year-old. Bale may have the footballing world at his feet, but he has the weight of a nation on his shoulders.