Gareth Bale: Footballer, Superstar or Both?

Unless you were holidaying on the moon during this summer’s football transfer window, you’re sure to have heard about the world record transfer of Tottenham Hotspur’s midfielder Gareth Bale to Spanish giants Real Madrid. The transfer saga of the year finally ended on the second-to-last day of the transfer window with a move reportedly worth over £85m. The twenty-four year-old Welshman’s career over the last year has been impressive, netting 21 goals in the Premier League alone for the North London club in the 2012/13 season, double what he produced the season before. However, does one terrific season justify Madrid’s interest and considerable price tag? Will Gareth Bale be a success at Real Madrid?

Pre-Madrid

Originally a left-back, Bale began his career in the Championship at Southampton and scored his first goal at the age of 17 with a net-rattling free-kick against Derby to bring the club level against their rivals. However, he went on to score just four more goals in 40 appearances for his club before the Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur swooped in and signed the teenager, who was later moved to a more attacking role on the wing in 2009, for £7m on a four-year contact.

Expected to flourish at his new club after a promising start where he scored goals against Fulham and North London rivals Arsenal, Bale unfortunately picked up an injury on his right foot against Birmingham City, which restricted him to just 12 appearances in the 2007/08 season. Then, after an unremarkable campaign in 2008/09, he had to have knee surgery after an MRI scan detected a meniscal tear in his left knee. This common injury among athletes happens when the meniscus, the cartilage between the shin and thigh bones, is moved or twisted in a certain way and doesn’t always require surgery, except in cases where the surgeon is positive the patient will benefit. With Bale under the guidance of expert physicians and reaping the benefits of the latest in medical advances, his recovery has been impressive. Repairing the tear also reduces the chances of the injury happening again, a crucial aspect for any athlete, especially in a contact sport such as football. Bale was out for two months, finally returning on 26th September in Tottenham’s 5-0 win against Burnley.

Despite these set-backs, the rest of Bale’s 2009/10 campaign was promising and in 2010/11 he hit the ground running, catching the eye of pundits and players worldwide, scoring 7 goals and assisting once in the Premier League and picking up the PFA Player’s Player of the Year award. However, most notably was his performance against European Champions Inter Milan where he scored a hat-trick at the San Siro. His goal tally proceeded to climb higher and higher in the following seasons, collecting both the PFA Young Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year for a second time, before completing his ‘dream move’ to nine time European Cup winners Real Madrid.

The Story so Far

Bale has appeared twice for his new club, scoring a tap-in, masterfully assisted by right-back Daniel Carvajal against Villareal, and assisting the second most expensive signing of all time, £80m Cristiano Ronaldo’s second goal in Madrid’s 6-1 victory over Galatasaray in the UEFA Champion’s League group stage. The reception of the pacey wide-man from Real Madrid fans has been mixed; although the majority seem delighted with the club’s new signing, many are confused and frustrated at the colossal price tag, resulting in the sale of their midfield and assist machine, Mesut Ozil, to Tottenham’s main rivals, Arsenal, to fund the transfer.

The Question of Bale’s Predicted Success

It’s entirely possible that Gareth Bale could become one of the greats. For his national team, he has a moderate 39 caps and 11 goals, but in his club career he has scored 49 in 187 games. He can create goal-scoring chances out of nothing, was Spur’s best player in the 2012/13 Campaign, and can make scoring from a free-kick look easy.

However, if you compare Bale’s statistics with other players of his age, he doesn’t seem quite so impressive. For example, Theo Walcott of Arsenal started at Southampton at the same time and age as Bale; transferring to the Gunners in 2006 for a fee of reportedly around £5m. Since he joined the North London team, he’s scored 40 goals in 185 appearances (compared to Bale’s 44 in 147 for Spurs). Last season, the Englishman’s assist rate was almost twice that of the ex-Tottenham player, despite scoring 7 less goals, making Walcott statistically around the same mark as his competitor – a fact largely overlooked by the press – and is in fact valued at around £25m, a staggering £60m less than Bale.

Robin Van Persie, involved in the transfer saga of last summer’s transfer window after scoring 30 goals for Arsenal in the 2011/12 season, was famously bought from Arsene Wenger’s club by Manchester United for £24m. Even taking age into account, as Van Persie was 29 with one year left on his contract at Arsenal, is Gareth Bale worth £61m more than one of the best strikers in the world?

The answer is: probably not. Will Bale live up to this monumental hype that surrounds him and become a Real Madrid superstar? Perhaps. Or perhaps he’ll just be what he has been for his career so far: really good.

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