Bale and Spurs revitalised

Posted by Miguel Delaney

Gareth Bale celebratesPA PhotosGareth Bale has been in fine goalscoring form this term

When Andre Villas-Boas starts to talk about Newcastle United, you can understand why he made such a big push to try and bring Leandro Damiao to Tottenham from Internacional at the end of the transfer window.

Sometimes, after all, the value of a new signing goes beyond their price or even playing ability. As Alex Ferguson has said, it can just give everyone a lift, refresh things.

Last season, for example, Everton enjoyed a very notable jolt after purchasing Nikica Jelavic and were re-energised for the run-in.

This season, Newcastle have already seen a similar effect. In his press conference ahead of the game at White Hart Lane on Saturday, Villas-Boas described Alan Pardew's side as like a "new team" after their four major January signings.

"They had the right impact. Most of them, Alan put them in the team straight away. [Moussa] Sissoko was a great grab."

It's all part of the subtle psychology of teams, which can have surprisingly far-reaching effects.

Gareth Bale knows this too well.

Indeed, in his mind, the 26 September 2009 must feel a lot longer than three and a half years ago. That was the day when the winger experienced his first ever win in the Premier League after 24 appearances, with Harry Redknapp later admitting he purposely threw Bale on five minutes from time in order to finally end any sense of superstition or jinx.

It's astonishing to think that, at the time, the Welshman almost never started for Spurs, was being touted as a £3 million target for Burnley and - other than a bright youth career - was mostly talked about for that record individual run without a victory.

Now, of course, he's the first name on the teamsheet, is very often a match-winner, and will command upward of £30 million if he ever goes somewhere like the Bernabeu.

And, even if Bale's inherent talent would have ensured he was always going to become an exceptional player whether Redknapp put him on in that Burnley game or not, the trajectory of his career since then has been remarkable.

It has been one straight, strikingly upward line: from sub to starter, to truly influential player, to Champions League star to - most recently - a talisman that can replicate Cristiano Ronaldo's rise.

That straight line, however, isn't just evident in the changes to his perception but also his position. Bale has gone from left-back to left wing to left forward and, most recently, centre-forward.

Pointedly, Villas-Boas also believes that a final move inside as the team’s focal point - in the manner of Ronaldo in 2007-08 with Manchester United - may well be the key to Bale completing his evolution to a player of that level.

"Obviously, it is funny to see how in some way both players compared," the Spurs boss said of their positional changes. "I think the most important thing is to get the players feeling well about what they do for the team, and I think Gareth feels well in that position. If he's able to fulfil his full potential, it's something we have to consider for the future."

Bale himself has recently spoken of how, in that future, he definitely hopes to emulate Ronaldo - who he sees as the best in the world. And, as Villas-Boas says, there are certainly "similarities between the players". "Both of them are extremely technical players and powerful and pacey."

Most obviously, their main attribute is that athleticism, with everything else built around that capacity to so impressively and imposingly outstrip opposition backlines.

But, even though Bale is nowhere near as devastating as Ronaldo yet, there is an argument that he is gradually adding more elements to his game; that there are a few more nuances to it. The Portuguese, after all, has become a player who often overwhelms defenders with sheer power.

Bale, meanwhile, gets more involved in moves much deeper and isn’t so single-minded about always scoring himself. In other words, he’s prepared to start attacks as much as finish them.

Of course, that is also reflected in their scoring records. When Ronaldo was a year younger than the 23-year-old Bale, in the 2007-08 season, he was already starting to produce his ludicrously prolific strike ratios.

And, although that was obviously also down to the fact the Portuguese was a better and more developed player at that age, Villas-Boas believes a similar escalation for Bale could be another benefit of his move inside.

You only have to look at his last two performances. Previously, for all Bale’s nine goals in the league, they had directly resulted in just two points. Most of his strikes tended to be in matches that were already won, when defences were stretched. In his last two games against Norwich and West Brom, though, Bale has hit an equaliser and a match-winner from his new position in the centre. Indeed, the game at Carrow Road was particularly notable given that a late equaliser came after he had been moved inside at half-time.

Jermain Defoe was alongside him in that game and Villas-Boas believes that, as Bale gets used to the position, an extra body temporarily playing off him may aid that evolution.

"When we played him in pre-season up front we played him alone. I think playing with somebody else can help his game too in terms of space that other can create and link up play. I think Gareth is such a phenomenal player that he is able to do that kind of role."

But, for all the talk of replicating Ronaldo in the long-term, the most important effect of Bale's move in the short-term may be that it provides Spurs with the jolt that they missed from failing to properly reinforce in January.

Signings, after all, aren't the only way to re-energise a team. A change in set-up or approach can be just as effective.

Because, as much as Villas-Boas argues that Bale has had "freedom" in his previous formation, there has still been the feeling that it was only within the allowed space of a relatively rigid structure; and one that had been in danger of becoming stale or predictable as the season wore on and teams faced them a second time.

Instead, a move up front may well refresh Spurs and properly release Bale. It isn't quite "like a new signing" - but it may result in the player's next step.

Gareth Bale's goals-per-game ratio compared to Cristiano Ronaldo's
Age Cristiano Ronaldo Gareth Bale
20 0.27 0.13
21 0.5 0.23
22 0.91 0.25
23 0.54 0.5

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