Feb 16, 2013, 10:06 AM EST
In something that’s becoming a more regular occurrence, Gareth Bale put himself front-and-center on Thursday, scoring twice in his team’s Europe League Round of 32 match, giving Spurs at 2-1 lead on Olympique Lyonnais. While that result amounted to little more than holding serve at home, few people cared about Spurs’ state after seeing Bale’s display. With two direct kick goals overshadowing a seemingly trademark point blank miss, the 23-year-old Welsh winger has started to transcend discussion of where he sits among England’s stars. With comparisons to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo flooding Friday’s papers in England, Bale is starting to carve out a place in the wider, global conversation.
Highlights of the game (courtesy of FOX Soccer) are below, with Bale’s first half goal creating a lot of buzz. From over 30 yards out, Bale hits a knuckler at Remy Vercoutre, a shot that dives down and to the keeper’s right as it reaches its apex. At first blush, the ball doesn’t seem to be struck that hard, floating toward goal in a way that makes you wonder how anybody could score from that far out against a top-level goalkeeper. But from the side angle, you can see Vercoutre freeze, his weight shifted to far onto his left foot as his dive comes up well short.
A winger with that dead ball skill is going to be compared to Ronaldo, but after today’s reports from Madrid-based outlet Marca, those comparisons may become more common. Notoriously cozy with Real Madrid, Marca is reporting Bale could be part of “a new project” Real will undertake this summer. That project will likely be refactoring the squad after a disappointing league season, with head coach José Mourinho probably gone.
For the most part, Marca’s report amounts to thin speculation, but there’s one tidbit that makes you think Bale’s future may really lie at the Santiago Bernabeu:
As revealed by MARCA on 28th December, Real Madrid will have preference over clubs looking to snap up Bale, after an agreement between the two clubs when Real signed Luka Modric in the summer.
If true, what this amounts to is a right of first refusal. If Real Madrid’s willing to match another club’s accepted bid, they can have Bale. And that’s if Real don’t make a offer of their own. Clubs like Anzhi Makhachkala or Paris Saint-Germain could conceivably proffer a fee Real Madrid’s unwilling to match, but this arrangement gives Real a huge advantage.
But the veracity of this news isn’t the scenario’s only if:
If Spurs Chairman David Levy accepts Bale’s request to leave the London club at the end of the season, ‘Los Blancos’ will have first choice, heading a long list of admirers of the player.
So let’s walk through the ifs, both implicit and explicit:
- If Gareth Bale wants to move, which may be linked to,
- If Tottenham fails to qualify for next year’s Champions League, and
- If Real Madrid are (a) interested,
- (b) willing to meet an acceptably high fee,
- (c) can convince Gareth Bale to sign, and
- aren’t outbid, …
… then Florentino Perez will have his 10th Galactico.
As improbable as it seems that all those factors will lineup, that’s the nature of transfers at that level of the game. Some happen. Most don’t. Because of the relationship between Tottenham and Real Madrid, this scenario seems more likely than most, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually likely.
For discussion’s sake, let’s fast forward six months and imagine what Real Madrid would look like with Bale in the squad. Although he’s capable of playing other places, Bale is a left wing, the same position Critiano Ronaldo plays with Real. One of them could go to the right side, they could spend some time in the middle, but ultimately there’s going to have to be some compromise. And that compromise, one which entails having spend time in a non-preferred position, might lead to a drop off in production.
The hypothetical move may also push another quality player, Angel Di Maria, out of the team, though Marca seemed to focus on Bale as a potential through-the-middle solution, talking about Bale’s ability to play centrally and comparing his goal rate to those of Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín. That positioning seems unlike. Tottenham manger briefly tried Bale in the middle of a 4-3-3 and ultimately decided to keep him left. As long as Real Madrid stays 4-3-3, Bale won’t be a good fit in the middle. But no matter who he’d replace – Di Maria or the Benzema/Higuaín duo – Bale would represent a very expensive means of marginal improvement.
Still, that’s the reality of acquiring players like Bale. The only teams that can afford him already have great players. In order to improve on them, you have to make some seemingly inefficient purchases. That’s often the only way the world’s haves and keep up with their peers. Barcelona, Manchester United, and Bayern Munich aren’t going to stop buying players just because the talent difference between Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gomez/Mario Mandzukic isn’t worth the $50-plus million Bayern’s likely to pay for the Polish international. They’re willing to be inefficient to be more competitive.
For some, this is the maddening world into which international soccer’s devolved. For others, it’s the inevitability of any competitive pursuit that operates at the extremes.
Regardless, at its core, this business involves players who can do things like this. Here are the highlights from Thursday’s game, where Bale and Lyon defender Samuel Umtiti engaged in a little game of golazo one-upmanship.
Dec 21, 2013, 5:40 PM EST
Leave it to the French to put a (wonderful) theatrical flourish on SKC’s triumphant campaign:
Dec 21, 2013, 5:08 PM EST
A huge day for the U.S. international and his team:
Dec 21, 2013, 4:34 PM EST
Hart’s reinstatement as starter in goal was surely among the dominant subplots today for City:
Dec 21, 2013, 4:06 PM EST
Watch a video tribute for a man “widely acknowledged as the definitive voice of British sport.”
Dec 21, 2013, 3:20 PM EST
The young American international scores No. 18 this season for Alkmaar as his sensational season continues in Holland:
Dec 21, 2013, 2:30 PM EST
Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen dropped points, while teams at the bottom of the Bundesliga table managed to gain a few.
Dec 21, 2013, 1:50 PM EST
Watch this bizarre own goal as Kompany slices the ball over Joe Hart and into his own net:
Dec 21, 2013, 1:29 PM EST
Recaps, reaction, video highlights and more from all seven PL games on Saturday:
Dec 21, 2013, 1:13 PM EST
Want to watch all the PL action and hear the experts analyze every game? Watch MOTD live here:
Dec 21, 2013, 12:58 PM EST
Cardiff City boss Malky Mackay spoke after his side lost to Liverpool, stating that, despite an ultimatum from owner Vincent Tan, he would not resign.
Dec 21, 2013, 12:26 PM EST
Baggies bounce back as fighting spirit surfaces in rambunctious battle with Hull:
Dec 21, 2013, 12:17 PM EST
Sunderland fought hard for all three points, but in the end, they remain dead last after a goalless draw with Norwich.
Dec 21, 2013, 12:13 PM EST
The Toon are on the verge of the top four after another superb victory at plucky Palace:
Dec 21, 2013, 12:04 PM EST
Villa managed to make the match interesting for about five minutes, but ultimately it was fairly easy for Stoke to get all three points.
Dec 21, 2013, 12:00 PM EST
United back in the groove as superb attacking display dispatches Hammers:
Dec 21, 2013, 11:57 AM EST
Fulham came back from 2-0 down, but City were simply the superior side, ultimately trotting out the winners.
Dec 21, 2013, 11:05 AM EST
United flying high as Moyes’ men are putting on a show at Old Trafford, watch the second half unfold:
Dec 21, 2013, 9:58 AM EST
Rooney returns, can he help United down the Hammers? Watch live, right here:
Dec 21, 2013, 9:43 AM EST
Can the Eagles clip the Magpies wings down at Selhurst Park? Watch live, right here:
Dec 21, 2013, 9:36 AM EST
Against Cardiff, Luis Suárez added two more goals to his season tally, making Malky Mackay’s position even more precarious.
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