Posted by: Reeve Boyd
Gareth Bale truly is a world class player. The 2012-2013 season has seen him mature from displaying seemingly limitless-yet-still-raw potential in 2010 against Inter Milan into the consistent, effective, devastating 2013 performer. With his new found status in the world game, it is inevitable that the biggest and most attractive football clubs are now becomingly increasingly linked with acquiring his services as early as this summer. For Bale, none come bigger than Real Madrid/Barcelona.
In recent times it seems as though Madrid have stepped up their interest in the Welshman, with some media outlets even suggesting that he will be their number one target come June. However, whilst it would appear Barcelona currently favour a move for the prodigiously talented Neymar, it is entirely possible for Sandro Rosell to instead view Bale as the ideal player to assist Messi in making Barcelona’s attack the most feared in Europe.
Of course, other clubs such as Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain will also explore the possibility of luring Bale from White Hart Lane, but for the time being the odds favour a big money move to Spain.
With all that in mind then, the obvious question is whether Bale is worth the money that it would take to prise him away from White Hart Lane and, in particular, Daniel Levy. After all, you only need to look at Luka Modric to understand the significant step-up required when swapping North London for Madrid or Catalonia. On the other hand, Bale is one of the few players in the world that offers both the Spanish giants an improvement in terms of quality and tactical flexibility and could therefore be well worth the £60 million required to land him.
Despite Barcelona’s abundance of attacking talent, there still seems to be a vacant spot on the left wing for a player of Bale’s pedigree. The tactical philosophy of Barcelona is based around possession and on extracting the very best from their Argentinian wonder, Lionel Messi. In order to do that, Pep Guardiola famously moved Messi from his position on the right-wing and deployed him further forward in a ‘false 9’ position, where he is also able to drop deeper and dictate the flow of the game. To assist him, Guardiola also usually played two wingers who possessed the ability to stretch the opposition’s defensive lines with sheer pace and tactical nous. In 2010-2011, Barcelona’s attack consisted of Messi alongside David Villa and Pedro and perhaps provided the best example of Barcelona at their peak.
However, since the horrific injury that Villa suffered in the Club World Cup later that year - coupled with dips in form for both Alexis and Pedro - Barcelona have at times over relied on Lionel Messi for goals and inspiration. Under Tito, Villa has struggled for game time since returning from his injury whilst Alexis has looked a shadow of the player the Catalans assumed they were purchasing from Udinese for upwards of £30 million. This has often meant Andres Iniesta starting on the left-wing and Francesc Fabregas being deployed in the centre of midfield. Whilst Iniesta has the ability to sparkle in any position, Vilanova and his assistants must recognise the importance of Iniesta in the centre of the pitch, particularly with Xavi now thirty-three years of age.
With Villa likely to leave at the end of the season in search of first team football and Alexis looking unlikely to recover any sort of form in Catalonia, Bale’s attributes would appear to offer Barcelona the penetration needed to consolidate their position at the pinnacle of word football. Whilst Alexis has recently looked frightened in front of goal, Bale has already contributed 13 goals for Tottenham in the Barclays Premier League, despite often being marked by more than one opponent. Moreover, Bale possesses the type of confidence needed to become a success for Barcelona, with both his shots per game and dribbles per game significantly higher than the Chilean. Finally, Bale’s searing pace and experience at playing as a left back means he will not be a downgrade on the industry and work rate offered by Sanchez, which is often used in his defence.
However, the purchase would not come without risk. As has been mentioned, whilst Bale has excelled in England, the more tactical and conservative approach deployed by teams when playing Barcelona would in theory restrict Bale’s ability to run with the ball from deep. Also, the current Tottenham team is used to get the best from the Welsh international, where their quick transitions from defence to attack allows Bale the freedom he needs to thrive. At Barcelona, he will have to develop into a player able to pick his moments of inspiration, whilst working in a unique system.
Another potential flaw of Bale’s game is that he is naturally left-footed. His reluctance to cut inside could potentially restrict Jordi Alba’s rampages down the left flank, negating an integral part of Barcelona’s tactical approach. For these reasons, the Barcelona board may well decide to invest the transfer budget in other options, including a top class goal keeper, a natural centre back and/or Neymar. Conversely, if Bale can continue to showcase his ability for Tottenham on a consistent basis until the end of the season, it may well convince Barcelona that he is the player needed to aid Lionel Messi by providing the Barcelona team with goals from the left flank.
Although seemingly more likely at the current time, any potential move by Real Madrid is still dependent on a number of factors. Firstly, the fact that head coach Jose Mourinho seems almost certain to leave at the end of the season means any potential signings in the summer will be dealt with by Florentino Perez. Even then, the upcoming presidential elections will likely result in a number of promises by Perez and any of his competitors, which may or may not be fulfilled. Finally, for as long as he remains at the Bernabeu, Cristiano Ronaldo will always be treated as the main man - and rightly so. The fact that Ronaldo occupies the left-wing position, and has a playing style similar to that of Bale’s only seems to cast further doubt on any potential switch.
However, although Ronaldo has recently come out to clarify that he is actually happy with life at the Bernabeu, there are still many who believe that he is looking for an exit route out of Madrid. The fact that his agent Jorge Mendes also represents Jose Mourinho will only fuel talk of a mega-money departure.
If Los Blancos season was to stutter to a disappointing conclusion then the President may feel it best to shake things up both in the playing and coaching staff. Bale would therefore be the ideal feel-good signing for the fans. Certainly in playing style, Bale should be able to slot into the current Real Madrid philosophy without much trouble. However, with many Madridistas unconvinced with Mourinho’s tactics, any new manager may look to impose a new way of playing, which may or may not suit Gareth Bale’s style of play.
Ultimately then, if Bale was to adapt to either side, he would almost certainly prove a great purchase irrespective of the price. On the other hand, the asking price alone means that any transfer for Bale would carry a significant risk. As well as this, a number of factors including departures of well established stars at both clubs would have to occur in order to fund any move. If there is one player worth the trouble for these two Spanish super clubs though, then it is Gareth Bale.