The date is May 19 2013, stoppage time at White Hart Lane and Gareth Bale sends the ball into the top corner of Simon Mignolet’s net. Exciting? Definitely. Exhilarating? Certainly. Surprising? Not in the slightest. And there’s the rub: that’s just not the Tottenham I love.
Bale’s performances in the second half of last season were robotic in their consistency, each strike from that left boot sailing, with laser-precision, towards its inevitable conclusion, a carbon copy of the previous missile.
The star players I remembered did not do this; they were inconsistent, their brilliance was so ephemeral, so painfully fragile that it became so much sweeter. David Ginola won his PFA and FWA awards for his sporadic genius, the type of football which catches the imagination more than any other. Dimitar Berbatov rarely fancied it, yet when he did it was such a thing of beauty; improvised, balletic brilliance.
With Bale it’s different. Not only is there an unerring consistency in his performance, the means to that end is achieved not with improvisation but precisely practised technique and perfectly honed physicality. He is a footballer made by scientists, conceived by algorithms. I can see why Bale is good, I know what he is going to do and, more often than not, I know that he is going to achieve it. However, what makes football so special is the dreaming and hoping, and when those dreams become inevitable in their achievement they lose their magic: that singular beauty that can exist only in the infinite imagination of the individual fan.
Bale’s problem is that it’s all about what most people wrongly believe is the basic premise of football: to win by scoring more goals than the opposition. Actually, football is about narrative, the curious stories and particular idiosyncrasies of each club.
Admittedly, Bale started with promise when he first turned up at White Hart Lane. Moments of brilliance were possible yet fleetingly insignificant in the grand narrative that was his unprecedented ability to act as bad luck charm. When he scored a terrific free kick against Arsenal in the 2007/8 season, for example, he did so in a losing cause. His non-winning streak became legendary: a floppy-haired, skinny-legged Welshman who could win for neither love nor money. It was funny, it was interesting and it gave that little scoreboard meaning.
Whether it’s Ossie’s trembling knees or Glenn Hoddle’s Diamond Lights, it’s the strange little stories that make players, clubs and, therefore, football interesting. Bale is no longer idiosyncratic. His hair is perfectly gelled, seemingly for aerodynamic precision, he hasn’t released a novelty single and he is famed for his calm, no frills off pitch persona.
Beneath this drivel there is a serious point somewhere. Call me pessimistic, but I just don’t see a day, at least in the near future, when Spurs are challenging, consistently for the league title-the ultimate symbol of unrelenting consistency. And yet that is the purpose for which Bale was built. You could say that that shows he has outgrown us, I say we no longer have a purpose for him!
Rather than having a player capable of giving us the consistency to finish 4th, why not accept whatever gazillions Real are offering and buy loads of players, each one troubled, inconsistent and open to the possibilities of a foray into the music biz. Maybe we won’t finish 4th, maybe we’ll go back to mid-table obscurity, but I would take that, just to see a sight as beautiful as Jonathan Woodgate hurtling through the air, hair a flutter, to squeeze the ball in with his face and win us the League Cup once more. I know it’s hard, I know Levy will be stubborn, but just imagine how many Stephane Dalmats we could buy with £80 million.
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