Bale luster lost as saga drags out

Posted by Iain Macintosh

If you had placed a bet at the start of the summer on whose conduct would be the most reprehensible during this transfer window, it is unlikely that you would have staked heavily on Gareth Bale. As annoying as his trademarked heart-finger celebration can be, as dubious as his unassisted plummets to the earth sometimes were, he never seemed the sort to invoke the grisly image of the surly modern footballer. But there he was this week, sauntering into his agent's office, clad in a skin-tight pink T-shirt with a matching pink hat, looking for all the world like a sausage, when he should have been at work.

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Let's not beat around the bush: Bale has gone on strike. Andre Villas-Boas said on Sunday that the Welshman was expected in for training on Tuesday, but he never arrived. There have been suggestions that Bale will be fined two weeks' wages for his unauthorised absence. Can you even begin to imagine the intensity of the media storm if this was Luis Suarez or Wayne Rooney?

Even Suarez, the toerag's toerag, has continued to turn up for training sessions. Doubtless his machinations continue in the background, but he is at least fulfilling the terms of the contract that his agent apparently failed to read properly last summer. Rooney, unrestrained by suspensions incurred for mid-game snacking, has gone one stage further and has actually played for the team that he is -- or perhaps was -- so desperate to leave. Not only that, but he played with such dogged intensity that he dropped an elbow on John Terry, his potential future captain. That could have been awkward.

This isn't to absolve Suarez and Rooney of any blame, or to pretend that they have acted honourably. They both signed lucrative long-term deals and then assumed that a hissy fit would be enough to break them. They have both unsettled their own teams; Rooney choosing to make his selfish break for freedom when Manchester United were as vulnerable and unsettled as they have been in over 20 years. But at least they're still turning up for work.

Bale will doubtless release a statement in due course praising Tottenham and their supporters, telling them that they will always have a special place in his heart-fingers, simpering and fawning, maybe even hinting at a return to White Hart Lane one day. If the Spurs fans have any sense, they'll just roll their eyes.

As Starship Troopers' Ace Levy (presumably no relation to Daniel) so sagely noted, "Ain't it great how they always want to be your friend right after they rip your guts out?"

Bale has turned over his club for his own gain, throwing his toys out of the pram until he got his own way. That doesn't make him any different from the majority of modern footballers, but it does mean that he relinquishes the right to leave the room smelling of roses.

The irony is that Tottenham, who could easily have capsized without their star player, now look, if anything, slightly stronger than last year. Indeed, they may enjoy a more successful future than their soon-to-be former employee. Having learned important lessons from January's failure to land a new striker and the drawn-out Dimitar Berbatov saga of 2008, Daniel Levy has played a blinder. Players like Erik Lamela and, perhaps, Christian Eriksen offer game-changing stardust; Paulinho and Etienne Capoue own the midfield; Roberto Soldado is so cool in front of goal that he must have veins filled with liquid nitrogen. No one can replace Bale, but the team, on the whole, is better for his price tag than it was for his presence.

By contrast, Bale doesn't seem like a solid bet for success in Spain. He's an excellent player, of course. We didn't just imagine his astonishing performances last season. But does he really have the kind of personality capable of embracing life in a new country?

The British are notoriously poor settlers abroad. Steve McManaman was a rare exception, assimilating himself into Spanish culture soon after joining Real Madrid, learning the language, socialising with team-mates and making a life for himself in the city. Michael Owen skulked in his hotel, driving to the airport for English newspapers every day because he didn't realise they sold them on a newsstand on the other side of the road.

Bale is, it seems, a homebody. He divides his time between London and Wales, rushing back at every opportunity to see his girlfriend and his family. He's shy, once asking if his awards-dinner speech could be converted to a far easier question-and-answer session. He is about to join the biggest club in the world, a dressing room full of powerful egos.

Let's hope that he's absolutely ready for this next challenge. Otherwise, he may soon have cause to regret the way he has treated Tottenham and their supporters.


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