Thank you Gareth Bale for daring to show us the way football should be played

November 4th, 2010

Simply a joy to see: Bale's performance against Inter Milan thrilled football fans the world over

Every one knew they had seen something special; an individual performance that was truly exceptional. They just could not fathom why it was so affecting.


There had, after all, been nights like this in Europe before. Maybe not for Tottenham Hotspur in recent years, but for Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool. Even Arsenal.

There had been games in which the most stellar names in the Champions League had been vanquished; occasions where the excellence of a player such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry or Steven Gerrard had set his team apart. Even so, Gareth Bale’s ravaging of Inter Milan stood out.

Another magic moment: Bale sets up Roman Pavyluchenko for Tottenham's third goal

The difference, perhaps, was this: at White Hart Lane on Tuesday night, Bale reduced football to its essence.


Fit young men running fast with the ball. That is what the game is supposed to be about. Athleticism, skill, courage.

To dare is to do, as the Tottenham motto reads. Bale does. Bale dares. He dares the way the best schoolboy footballers dare. He runs at players, he runs past players, he kicks the ball and chases after it, knowing he is faster than his opponent, regardless of size or reputation.

The moment when Lucio, tamer of the mighty Didier Drogba when Inter Milan played Chelsea less
than a year ago, tried to hit Bale with our old friend the two-footed reducer was pivotal. Bale expressed his surprise that the referee Viktor Kassai of Hungary gave no free-kick but, soon after, took Lucio on in a straight sprint that went beyond mere physical retribution.

It was brutality by another name because Bale did not leave his foot in on a man, but on a man’s reputation.

There was something wonderfully primitive about his display; something that blasted a hole through
the world of Prozone and 9-0-1 and two guarding midfielders and all the other sophistications of the
modern game that may be necessary but serve only to remove its delight.

Not that there is anything wrong with thinking tactically or scientifically, just that sometimes it is
rather grand to see a player simply get hold of the ball and go, particularly when, in Bale’s case, the final product is a pass that meets the striker as if guided by satellite.

While Bale’s speed and sheer audacity delighted the spectators, the quality of his crosses left the greatest impression on the professionals.

Sam Allardyce, manager of Blackburn Rovers and due at White Hart Lane in nine days, said the whole performance had him on the edge of his seat, but singled out Bale’s delivery as the defining factor.

Ruud Gullit, who knows about the demands of the biggest clubs, said that Bale had turned in a Real
Madrid performance, because for the elite it was not enough to get into a good crossing position, the
final ball had to be so perfect that the striker barely had to work to score.

He raved about the ease with which Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko received Bale’s passes and, no doubt, he was not the only one.

Bale’s physical strength will not have gone unnoticed, either. A number of observers made comparisons with playground or youth football when a player who is quicker or more developed can wreak havoc against opponents his own age.

Bale is a July birthday and at school would always have been among the youngest in his group, but watching him on Tuesday he seemed older.

At the end of the game, one almost expected a coach to put an arm around his shoulder and tell him that, next week, he was going to play against the Under 15s.

‘There’s no point you staying with the 13s, son, it will only hold you back.’

On the touchline, there would be a group of angry dads claiming the club should check his birth certificate. ‘He’s never 13, that one. Have you seen how quick he is? It’s not right.’

Meanwhile, Maicon would be telling his mates in the playground next day that his team lost, but the other lot cheated.

‘They had this winger, but there was no way he was our age. My dad said he came in his own car.’ To be fair, Maicon could have brought a car, too, and he still wouldn’t have caught Bale.

On a night of triumph for Harry Redknapp, his manager, Bale showed what could be achieved by keeping a wide player on the correct flank, rather than inverting, as England did with Ashley Young
and Adam Johnson against Montenegro. Bale could never have built up that head of steam had he been required to check inside all the time.

Maybe that will be a tactic for the days when defenders have worked out how to cope with him — and
Manchester United and Everton have made the best job of that this season — but, in Europe at least,
there is no sign of it yet.

On top of his game: Bale is the toast of Spurs fans after he inspired the Londoners to victory over Inter

What is also apparent is that Bale is outstripping his contemporaries. He used to share a room at the
Southampton academy with Theo Walcott — their initials may still be carved in there somewhere — but while Walcott continues to struggle to establish himself on one side of north London, Bale is a prince on the other.


He is four years younger than another wing prospect, Ashley Young, two years younger than Adam Johnson. For those already bitterly regretting that Wales, and not England, have produced another left-sided player to rival Ryan Giggs, the news is even worse than suspected.

England are Wales’s next opponents in their European Championship qualifying campaign, travelling
to Cardiff in March.

To borrow a phrase from White Hart Lane on Tuesday night, taxi for Glen Johnson.


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