It is not every day that a footballer”s name gets confused with that of a movie star.
Ahead of Manchester United’s 2-3 loss to Tottenham Hotspurs at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson spoke of the threat Spurs carried down the wings, with Aaron Lennon down the right and Christian Bale down the left.
Of course, what Sir Alex had mistakenly left out was that Bale is known as Gareth, not Christian on a first name basis.
But while Batman’s journey seems to have ended with the final part of its trilogy with the Dark Knight Rises, Bale’s journey is just beginning.
Spotted from a young age, Bale was always that young Southampton left back who had a lethal left foot. With magnificent set piece deliveries, he was hailed as the next great Welshman. Courters came from far and wide, and at a time, it was even rumoured that Ryan Giggs had been sent to coax his fellow countryman into joining Man Utd.
He would however find himself in London as Spurs was the team to capture his signature. It was always seen as a stepping stone, let by the top teams to join a side where afforded patience and with less pressure, he would gain the required experience. Now, at 23, he may just be ready.
The problem is that now, he has taken Tottenham close to being one of the top teams, and luring him away will not come cheap.
That will be because a symbiotic relationship now exists between club and player. Bale is definitely now the club’s biggest star, all because the club is set up to maximize his potential.
Potential that was always prevalent. From the get go, Bale was slotted in at Spurs as a left back. It however did not take long to decipher that Bale was not that good a defender regardless of his brilliant overlapping runs. Had he been born in Brazil, this would not have mattered. However, as a Welshman playing in the Barclays Premier League, his work at left back was to be judged on his defending capabilities rather than his overlapping ventures.
But where Juande Ramos dropped him, it would take Harry Redknapp the nerve to push him further forward in midfield. As a left winger, he produced magical moments, using his pace to maximum effect. Also, his history as a left back meant that he could at least provide defensive cover for whoever played behind him at left back.
Ultimately though, his performances were more flashes of brilliance rather than the rolling film of consistency. His nights against Inter Milan (and Maicon in particular) in the Champions League were legendary, but not replicated as often against other opponents. There was a sense that rather than kick on, Bale was only producing glimpses of what was to come.
Now, it seems as if it has come. Bale is currently on the best form of his career so far. That is coupled with a great scoring streak that has provided definitive moments for his club. Tottenham now, because of Bale, is being hailed as a one man team.
This of course is far from the truth. As has been argued in this article by Iain Macintosh, Bale has a lot to thank his manager, Andre Villas Boas. It is AVB’s team setup that allows Bale the opportunity to rise above his abilities.
AVB has ensured that the team now plays in a compact 4-2-3-1. Bale thus has lots of passing options close to him. He is closer to his left back, one of his defensive midfielders and also his attacking midfielder. As such, these close passing options mean that Bale does have the freedom to also drift inside, cancelling out the option of opponents double marking him as was the case last season when he regularly hugged the touchline.
For AVB, getting the best out of Bale is not the first time that he has managed to inspire a player to his best. At Porto especially, he did this to a multitude of players. It was he who managed to release the tiger from Falcao’s cage. It was he who revived Joao Moutinho’s dipping career after the debacle that had seen him leave Sporting Lisbon acrimoniously under the ‘rotten apple’ tag. And when Silvestre Varela scored the winner against Denmark for Portugal at Euro 2012, it was acknowledged that the winger had been groomed by AVB.
It is however Hulk whom AVB had the most influence. The gifted Brazilian was known to have a temper as bad as that of his comic book namesake. AVB got Hulk to focus more on his football and through that he has become incredible, constantly picking up caps for the seleccao.
Even AVB’s short time at Chelsea saw the promising Daniel Sturridge earn the confidence to play brilliantly. It seems as if this same confidence granted to Sturridge, and the focus enhanced in Hulk, is being channeled into Bale to make him a world class player.
Therefore, Bale is clearly now on his way to becoming the next great Welshman in the Premier League. In the footsteps of his fellow countrymen; Mark Hughes, the late Gary Speed, Robbie Savage, Craig Bellamy and the timeless Ryan Giggs; Bale is well on his way to becoming a Welshman synonymous with a Premier League era.
In terms of performance, he may even surpass them. If everything goes well, Bale, now just 23, may become the best Welshman to ever play in England. Indeed, with suitors such as Real Madrid and Barcelona being mentioned, he may eventually, in future, become the greatest Welsh footballer to have ever lived.
For now, Bale is following in that English royal tradition that makes the Prince of Wales the immediate heir to the crown. If football were a game of checkers, AVB is making Bale the king.