|TOTTENHAM'S GARETH BALE IS GOOD BUT NOT GREAT
Paddy Power: 4 March 2013
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In my eyes, Gareth Bale is an anomaly. On his day he makes a strong case that he's among the top 20 players in the world, but over the course of a season I'm less impressed than I know I should be.
Personally I believe a top class player has to be able to perform at the highest level consistently, which is something Bale has yet to convince me he's capable of. I've taken a real in-depth look at his last three seasons in order to attempt to highlight this lack of consistency, as they're the three seasons in which he's been a first team player in an advanced role.
2010/11 was the season in which Bale really announced his presence onto the world stage, as he repeatedly punished Maicon, one of the world's best right-backs, and scored a hat-trick in the Champions League. In the 13 games leading up to that famous demolition at the San Siro– y'know, that 'demolition' which Spurs lost 4-3 – Bale scored just 3 goals. In the 28 games which followed, he netted just 5 times.
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In 2010/11 Bale only scored in consecutive games on two occasions and went on a run of 13 games without scoring or assisting at one point. In terms of goals contributed in the Premier League, he only finished behind titanic figures of the modern game; the likes of Craig Gardner, Luke Varney, Shola Ameobi, Jerome Thomas and Carlton Cole (to name just a few of the 76 players who topped him). One season defining performance left Bale with a reputation as a world class talent, despite him being tremendously average for the majority of the year and statistically only the 77th best player in England.
Roll on the 2011/12 season, where Bale's goalscoring was pretty average for an attacking player again, but he found an impressive consistency when playing in his teammates – a trait which saw him finish joint fifth in the Premier League's assist chart. Even once he'd found this 'consistency', Bale still went on several runs of Premier League games without contributing any goals, with the largest of these runs lasting 8 games. With form as up and down as a flautist's fingers and still largely living off the back of his one amazing performance at the San Siro, Bale was still considered a top class player.
Now we get on to the current season, where Bale has been in by far the most prolific form of his career and earned unparalleled praise. Before his hat-trick against Aston Villa which reignited the dying embers of his world class reputation, Bale had played 20 games for Spurs. In those 20 games he scored 7 goals and assisted once, which, in fairness, is a decent record. If you look at his form since Boxing Day, he's scored 11 goals in 10 games, which is a ludicrous record for any Premier League player and light years beyond his 'decent' showing earlier this season.
We football fans are an extremely fickle bunch, though. We only like to remember what we've seen most recently, but contributing steadily over the course of a season is far more important than an annual burst of form, if you ask me. Everyone's talking Gareth Bale up as if he's the Messiah based on a handful of games, but over the course of the season there's an awful lot of players who've contributed more.
If you look at the season as a whole rather than the most recent games, there's three players in the Arsenal team alone who've contributed a similar amount of Premier League goals as Bale's 18 (goals and assists combined). Lukas Podolski is one behind on 17, whilst Santi Cazorla is equal on 18. Even Theo Walcott with his shocking inconsistency, lack of football brain, terrible finishing and zero end product has contributed more goals than 'on par with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi' Gareth Bale this season, with a tally of 20.
Another thing I find fascinating is that the media's favourite pantomime villain, Luis Suarez, has more goals, goals per minutes, assists, shots, dribbles, passes, key passes and tackles than Bale this season and he's carrying an even worse team on his shoulders – where are the hordes of people saying he's 'up there with Ronaldo and Messi'?
I'm not denying the fact that he's on world class form at the moment – anyone who tried would look pretty daft – but a lack of consistency is something that's followed Bale throughout his entire career and I don't see this electric form lasting forever, personally. What I will concede, though, is that there's no doubt he's flourishing in his new free role under Andre Villas-Boas and his threat, especially on the counter-attack, is more frightening than ever.
This counter-attacking threat is crystal clear if you consider that, of Bale's 15 Premier League goals this season, 11 of them have come in away games. This is because teams tend to play more expansive, attacking football at home, which means Bale can attack the gaps left in his opposition more freely. When he's on form and has open grass to gallop into, whether it's with or without the ball, he's one of the most dangerous players around at the moment.
If he can find the consistency that's eluding him and sustain these phenomenal performances for an entire season, there's absolutely no question that he'll become one of the best players in the world over the coming year or so – but can he do it, or is he just a form player who's currently in form?
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