The Last Word: It's not a shame Bale is Welsh, it's a blessing

Hysterical over-reaction proves that playing for England would have harmed nice lad's career
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The Independent Football

Of the many attributes of Gareth Bale, the greatest could well be that he is Welsh. That is not merely a self-satisfied statement from a Taffy (although I must confess we are feeling a tad smug over the bridge) but also a genuine belief that if the Cardiffian had been born 40 miles to the east, it could have irreparably harmed his career. To understand why is simply to imagine what would have happened in the last four days since his virtuoso against Internazionale.

Bale's first performance in the away tie was considered a classic but, in joining The Godfather and The Dark Knight as characters who starred in sequels better than the original, he ensured the reaction verged on hysterical. Yet if three lions adorned his national shirt rather than a single dragon there would have been no "verging" about it.

On the evidence of 180 minutes, England would be favourites to win the 2014 World Cup and Bale would be the genius on which the glory would be built. The analysis would have gone way beyond the sports pages and certainly way beyond what it could mean to the chances of Tottenham Hotspur progressing in the Champions' League. No, the fevered speculation would have gone mainstream and the patriotism would have been mainlined.

The clamour for Fabio Capello to use this unique talent properly would have become so vehement that by now he would have been summoned to the Palace and told if he did not construct his side and his entire gameplan on that golden left foot he would be packed off to the Tower, or probably to Milan. Hail Bale, the gift from the sporting gods here to lead us out of our footballing wasteland...

But wait, what about the boy himself, what would have happened to young Gareth? Well, the sponsorship opportunities would be far greater in both number and noughts; the agents would have been in 10 per cent heaven. There would have been no chance of him playing golf on Wednesday afternoon with his mates (as he did) and there would have been no chance of him keeping his spikes anywhere near terra firma (as he tried).

Bale would have been acclaimed a national treasure and therefore be national property, too. By now the rake would have been so far buried into his private life, they would have discovered things about Gareth Bale that even Gareth Bale didn't know.

Except here's the thing, and here's what would be another part of the problem. There isn't anything to dig up on Bale, apart from the unsatisfactory morsels that he is a quiet, well-mannered lad from a well-heeled part of the city. He is Ryan Giggs without the turbulent childhood, without the love of the high life even. If you believe the Old Trafford maestro to be unassuming and modest, then Bale at 21 makes Giggs at 21 resemble Amy Winehouse. Those who know him confirm he is without fault and without much of an ego, either. Bale would be depicted as the perfect saviour.

How would he cope with that, with England's dreams resting on what many are only now just realising happen to be very broad shoulders? Of course that is hypothetical; we don't know yet how he will manage under the intense spotlight already lighting up his every move. But surely it is unarguable to say it will be easier to reach his potential without the absurd levels of expectation which follow the would-be 1966 successors.

Wayne Rooney and Bale are as different as human beings as they are as players, but what the former would give for the latter to be his countryman. And not just because he would not have to go foraging out on the left for service. Rooney could be receiving his ankle rehab in the United States in the blissful knowledge that some other poor dolt at home is the fodder for the flashbulbs, someone else would be judged as having a duty to his country, someone else could take the weight of underachievement.

But then some will say Bale will never reach his potential because of his nationality. They will point to Giggs, to George Best and to other great players whose talent never graced the greatest stage. This may have applied once but, in truth, has not for a long time. If this year's World Cup told us anything it is that international football is not the be-all and end-all; in fact, to the mass of early retirees it means sod all. Club football now affords the possibility of as much fulfilment as any player should ever need. Just ask Didier Drogba.

Not to say Bale's Wales aspirations are forlorn and the excitement has long been welling in these parts of a midfield four comprising Bale, Craig Bellamy, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Collison. But if and when he does inspire his country to their first major finals since 1958 he will be doing so with élan, rather than labouring under any great, historical demand.

The chances are, of course, Wales's skirmishes among the elite will remain, at best, occasional, and even this disappointment will favour Bale in terms of the longevity of his career. Giggs would not still be playing at the top level now – indeed, would not be the reigning Sports Personality of the Year – if he was English. He would have been burned out physically and probably emotionally as well.

So it's not a shame Bale is Welsh – it's a blessing. He can do it for himself, for his club and, yes, if he must, for his country as well. But not for some ludicrous higher cause he could only dream of satisfying. Even he's not that good.

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