James Lawton: Sorry, Rio, trophies are not the way to judge greatness

Maybe, just maybe, he is the like of which we have not seen since the unforgettable George Best

It has been said once and now, God save us from the wrath of the oracle of Twitter, Rio Ferdinand, it will be said again. Gareth Bale is arguably the most exciting football player bred in these islands since George Best.

The problem with this statement, according to Ferdinand is that, no matter how tentatively, it brings the 22-year-old Welshman into comparison with his 38-year-old compatriot Ryan Giggs. There is another crushing argument against Bale's early elevation, supporters of which Ferdinand deems to be mad.

Bale, for all the acclaim he has accumulated in the power centres of European football, has yet to win a single title. This means that we cannot put a value on the qualities which Bale has so far displayed at places like San Siro until he gets to the end of his career, when we can then count out the contents of his trophy cupboard.

It is just as well this criterion has never been applied to the life of Sir Tom Finney, who in the view of some great judges and notably high achievers was perhaps the most exciting talent produced in Britain before the arrival of, er, George Best.

If Finney was judged purely on his medals, he would now be remembered as a highly respected citizen of Preston and a master plumber who also played football rather well, though sadly without the satisfaction of winning anything more than a pat on the back.

Fortunately, this did not deflect the admiration of some of the most honoured names in British football.

One assessment went like this: "To dictate the pace and course of a game a player has to be blessed with awesome qualities and those who have accomplished it on a regular basis can be counted on one hand... Pele, Maradona, Best, Di Stefano and Tom Finney." I would add the name of Johan Cruyff to the list but then I'm not Sir Stanley Matthews.

Here is another tribute to the sublime, but potless, Finney: "Tom Finney would have been great in any team, any match and in any age... even if he had been wearing an overcoat." This was said by Bill Shankly, who also responded to a question about how he would compare the fine Sheffield United and England player Tony Currie with Finney by saying, "Very favourably, but you know Tommy Finney is nearly 60."

Yes, it has to be allowed that Bale has a long course to run and, yes, too, it is true Giggs has run his magnificently, acquired a ton of silverware and this, ironically enough, after his manager Sir Alex Ferguson angrily declared that it was absurd to claim that the teenaged Giggs was the new Best.

Giggs was never going to be that. He was a marvellously fluent runner and dribbler and for most of his career would be a glorious re-statement of the value of someone with the pace and skill to create constant danger out wide.

Giggs's deeds, and his versatility, hardly need much burnishing in the memory. Some of them so are vivid they might have come yesterday, perhaps most notably the FA Cup semi-final goal against Arsenal when he ran through the entire defence and then waved his shirt in celebration. However, Giggs was three years older than Bale is today.

Who knows how many trophies and extraordinary feats Bale will have accomplished by then if, as many expect, he becomes the property of Real Madrid or Barcelona or Manchester City?

The excitement Bale has caused, and the value that has been attached to him, is evident enough by the pressure that his club Spurs are already anticipating next summer – if not in the next transfer window.

Ferdinand also says: "When I'm retired I will be judging my career on what my team won. I play to win daily. If Paul Gascoigne had been at a winning club he would have been the best player in the world."

No, he wouldn't. Gazza had a beautiful talent but he could no more handle it than he could catch the wind. He had sublime gifts. They came to him in the cradle and if they were, in their way, the most thrilling we had seen since the dispiriting early decline of the astonishing Best they were also invaded, fatally, by the rush of B-list celebrities they attracted. Does Ferdinand think that a manager who hoarded success, one like his own Ferguson, would have tolerated the indiscipline of Gazza for longer than it took him to understand that he was, tragically, incapable of holding himself together?

No one is saying that Bale is a certainty to avoid the pitfalls of injury and pressure or that there may not be weaknesses in his nature that a season as one of the most expensive players in the history of football might not explore quite seriously. No, the contention here is simply that he has already displayed a talent that is both hugely exciting and technically superb – and maybe, just maybe, the like of which we may not have seen since the unforgettable George.

If this is madness, make me a bunk in the loony bin.

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea