In mid-February, this blog posted a piece which, at the time, seemed mildly provocative, but born out of what appeared to be undeniable reality: Spurs were in danger of being overly reliant on Gareth Bale. The piece was carried by the Fighting Cock and drew predictable criticism from readers for its supposed overly negative aspersions on Spurs’ season.
Nevertheless, when Bale scored twice to help sink West Ham 3-2 on 25 February, The Sun (and others) well and truly hitched themselves to the one-man-team bandwagon.
All football fans think that the media – tabloids, in particular – are intent upon dragging down their club. The theory goes that in the competitive pursuit of sales headlines and stories become boiled down to their most sensationalist and extreme. For the most part, fans are right; the press do oversimplify; though any paranoia that suggests it happens more to their club than their rivals is, of course, a delusion.
What is also true is that the broadsheets watch what the tabloids do and then gleefully revel in haughty contrariness. If the tabloids say 2 + 2 = 5, then the broadsheets work with a more opaque formula (something like √(2 + 2 + 1) = 2.24?).
The deal you make when you read the sports pages of ‘quality’ papers is that you willingly fuel this conceit, as it is mutually beneficial; you feel intellectually superior to the red-top reading white van man, and the failed lawyers and stockbrokers who today make up the football news rooms of The Guardian and Telegraph can feel they’ve found their place in society.
So it was that the likes of The Guardian almost instantly started tearing at the prevailing narrative that had built up around Spurs and Bale. The football tactics critic (probably not his real job title) wrote a typical piece which, as far as I can claim to understand, asserts that without the team setting itself up to maximise Bale’s many strengths – “he is quick and powerful, technically gifted and can strike the ball ferociously with his left foot” – they would fail to get the best out of him. His boss, Sean Ingle then followed up with a Moneyball-type explanation of the editorial line.
Football is clearly a team game. I’m sure even the perceived knuckle-draggers a The Sun would agree with that. Stick Bale in the Andorra team, or in the, er, Wales XI, and you would see less match-winning brilliance.
But just sometimes hyperbole has its place in sport. Sometimes a sportsperson comes along who is so obviously superior (in form or consistent quality) to his/her immediate peers that eulogies must be colourfully made. The Guardian, at last, came close to acknowledging this when in its report of last Saturday’s 1-0 win over Southampton – where Bale AGAIN scored a decisive goal – it was stated that Bale “appears to be on a one-man mission to drag [Spurs] into the Champions League”.
In that spirit, I’m going to go further than two months ago. The recently crowned PFA and FWA Player of the Year is so far ahead of anyone else in this country that he’d materially improve any team in the world.