'Unplayable' Spurs flyer lays down title challenge
Redknapp gives his star 22-year-old the freedom to keep Spurs on the trail of the Manchester clubs
Thursday 29 December 2011
There are those who maintain lessons taught in the rarified atmosphere of the Champions League cannot be applied to the pace and passion of domestic football. Interviewed after playing the leading role in a performance that suggested Tottenham Hotspur have the staying power, as well as ability, to be considered serious challengers for the Premier League title, Gareth Bale clearly disagreed.
"I think we learned a lot as a team which we've brought into this season," said the Wales international, after scoring both goals in the 2-0 win at Norwich which, after most of the teams around them had unexpectedly dropped points, ensured Spurs stayed firmly in touch with Manchester United and Manchester City at the top of the table.
"We learned from the big teams, how they played, and have kind of adopted that style in a way. We try to be patient because we know we're going to create chances with the players we have."
That Spurs have improved as a unit is undeniable, but in none of the squad does that improvement appear to be so marked as in Bale. Which given he was arguably the north London club's player of last season says as much about his character and intelligence as it does about his innate ability, according to the Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp.
"He deserves all he gets really, because there's nothing flash about him, he's not Billy Bighead, he just comes in every day, he loves to train and loves to play," said Redknapp.
"I played him free [against Norwich], him, Rafa [van der Vaart] and Luka [Modric], I played three midfielders rather than sticking him out on the left wing, because when he picks it up and runs at you through the middle, when he pops up in positions in between midfield and in between their back people, it's difficult to pick him up, and when he turns and runs with the ball, like he did there, he's unstoppable.
"I just think sometimes when he stands wide and on the touchline, people get tight to him, they're going to go and mark him and it's difficult to get him in the game, but when he comes in and frees himself off and just finds little holes to play in and picks it up he's unplayable."
So Norwich found. The question for Redknapp, whose image sometimes means his tactical acumen is under-rated, is whether to continue to give Bale – still only 22 – freedom to roam.
Speaking earlier this year, Redknapp's predecessor as Spurs manager, Juande Ramos, said he still saw Bale as an attacking full-back "where those incredible bursts from him can come from deeper and will be more difficult to defend against", but the Welshman's continued development surely commands a reassessment. Those at Carrow Road on Tuesday, or watching on television, saw vision, tactical awareness and composure, as well as the devastating pace and sweet left foot which he has always possessed. It will not have gone unnoticed among the money men of the game, who will at some point attempt to lure Bale away. But Redknapp countered: "If we sell him, we've had it haven't we? It would only be a Barcelona, a Man City or a Real Madrid who would be able to pay for him. He's not for sale."
Asked about Spurs' title chances, Bale was careful, but not dismissive. "I'm not too sure, I think the main objective this season was to get back into the Champions League and it still is," he responded. "We know we're playing well, but we'll take it as it comes, work hard in every game and hopefully keep playing the football we are."
On the face of it, the fixture list next month, which sees them facing home games against West Brom, Everton, Wolves and Wigan, as well as a trip to Manchester City, offers Spurs the chance to maintain the pressure on the Manchester clubs. Redknapp made it clear he was not so sure.
"If I'd have said to you at the start [of this round of games], Liverpool home to Blackburn, that's a home banker, Chelsea-Fulham, fancy Chelsea pretty strong, Arsenal home to Wolves, you don't see them not winning. I just felt everybody would win and we would need to win just to keep pace, but they all managed to drop points, so there's no easy ones. West Brom, Wolves, Wigan, they'll all be scrapping for their lives and for sure they'll make it difficult."
Even so, Redknapp appeared to row back slightly on his previous suggestion that the club should make one major January buy. He said: "We're hoping Michael Dawson is going to be fit in two weeks, Aaron Lennon shouldn't be too long, same with Jermain Defoe, so we have one or two coming back. I think we'll probably stay with what we've got. I'd only give myself a headache bringing in someone else."
Bale in figures
7 League goals scored by Bale this season – already equalling his previous best (2010-11).
3 goals in his first five games for Tottenham, then...
65 games without scoring, then...
22 goals in 65 games since ending his drought in a 2-1 victory against Arsenal in April 2010.
24 League games played without winning after joining Spurs in 2007.
£5m paid to Southampton by Tottenham in 2007, with a further £2m payment following a year later.
2.2 games per goal this season compared to 5.44 games per goal since moving to White Hart Lane.
8 goals in all club competitions this season – the Welshman scored 11 last season.
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