What is a talisman? A quick search of the internet will reveal that it is an object that purports to possess magical properties warding off evil and bestowing good luck upon its owner. We Greeks love a talisman. Many of our children will have a mass-produced evil eye attached to their babygrows as we waft incense around them and spit on the floor should any stranger deign to lavish them with any hint of a compliment. We’re a highly superstitious folk, us Hellenes.
As are football supporters. Over the course of three seasons, a young Welshman has emerged as the talisman for my club and it is his continued development and importance as a footballer, ranking as he now does amongst the current world’s best that perhaps holds the key to Tottenham’s aspirations for glory over the next few years. Whereas last week, I celebrated the career and mourned the plight of a hero from my youth, this week I want to salute the efforts of a Spurs legend in the making.
Gareth Bale deserves all the plaudits that come his way, whatever the naysayers would callously and petulantly sneer via the safety of their sticky keyboards. Apparently his simian-like features and goal celebrations are irksome although I somehow don’t recall those accusations hindering the likes of Peter Beardsley or Alan Shearer during their careers.
He could so easily have been consigned to the pages of the “What Happened To?” inhabited by young footballers who promised much but who buckled under the weight of expectation and superficial material riches. Bought as a full-back by Martin Jol, Bale was simply dreadful and much was made of Tottenham’s winless streak whenever he turned out for them in the early stages of his career. Necessity being the mother of invention however, saw Harry Redknapp reluctantly thrust Bale onto the left-wing thus inadvertently unleashing the beguiling talent we all see today. The roaming freedom he has been afforded by Andre Villas-Boas, largely due to a dip in creativity in the striking department, has seen him move up yet another level in recent weeks.
Bale’s now iconic performances over two matches against Inter Milan in Tottenham’s debut season in the Champions League are largely accredited with introducing him to a wider audience, but it was his double demolitions of Arsenal and Chelsea in the run-up to the fourth place finish of 2009 that turned me from doubter into devout believer. Prone to pessimism as I am though, I’ve lived with the overriding sense of doom that it will only be a matter of time before Bale decides to seek out sunnier, more successful climes rather than slum it in the urban dystopia that is the London Borough of Haringey.
Thankfully, I am married to a woman blessed with a more optimistic disposition. Supporter of Manchester United she may be, but Nina has always been a staunch advocate of Bale’s inherent ability and common decency. Whilst I initially dismissed him as a “waste of money”, Nina urged patience. Whilst I fretted over a mass exodus after Spurs’ failure to secure Champions League football last season, she correctly predicted that Bale would stay. It eventually transpired that we bade farewell to Luka Modric and one can hardly call his move to Madrid an outstanding success. Hopefully Bale has taken note.
With every rampaging dart of pace and stupendous free-kick however, the circling vultures descend upon White Hart Lane. It doesn’t help matters that Bale is increasingly mentioned in the same breath as the equally compelling Cristiano Ronaldo or that he has recently taken to modelling both his technique and hairstyle on his hero. It is now imperative that Spurs qualify for next season’s Champions League and that Daniel Levy holds his nerve when it comes to weighing up the club’s finances against its ongoing quest for honours.
There’s an excellent scene in Fight Club where Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden mocks the expectations of a society driven and obsessed by moving up to a supposed ‘next level’. Durden refuses to succumb to the pre-ordained blueprint for existence and thus allows Ed Norton’s Narrator to also find a way out from the burden of expectation beyond that of college, job, wife and child. While admittedly being an attractive proposition for any young boy who dreamed of playing football, would a move to Madrid, Barcelona or Munich really allow Bale entry into the pantheon of greats? Or would he just be yet another adornment on the mega-clubs’ roster of expensive benchwarmers ? At Spurs, he could potentially have an entire team built around him that could blossom in the next few years under the stewardship of a manager, who unusually for a club perennially in transition, actually knows what he’s doing.
There have been the inevitable accusations that Spurs have become a one-man team during Bale’s current rich vein of form. It’s as if people have forgotten the significance of Didier Drogba to Chelsea’s Champions League win last season or Thierry Henry’s goals during his first spell at Arsenal. Twenty-two years ago, a Geordie in a Spurs shirt single-handedly dragged the team to the FA Cup final and I don’t recall anybody criticising that. Let’s not forget that Gazza imploded in that final and prompted the team that was actually replete with excellent footballers, to triumph against the odds. The same can be said of this current Spurs squad. Bale might be the shining light but it’s not as if Aaron Lennon, Moussa Dembele and Jermain Defoe are average footballers.
Gareth Bale is unquestionably the best player to grace White Hart Lane since David Ginola. Such players are rare. They are the players that will continue to be spoken about as the years melt into decades. Just as Gazza continues to arouse fond recollections from Spurs fans of a certain age, there are surely young supporters who will also hold Bale in such high esteem in years to come.
I’d like to believe that Gareth Bale has more about him than to be seduced by the shimmering hall of mirrors, tantalisingly offered by the elite clubs. But to be sure, may I suggest the kitman at White Hart Lane surreptitiously pins one of those evil eyes onto his matchday shirt from now until the end of the season. My grandmother swears by them.
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Richard Swarbrick’s mesmeric tribute to Bale’s nights against Inter: