The most popular soccer league in America (and the world for that matter), the English Premier League, is set to kick off in just over two weeks’ time. In the United Stats, most of the news focuses on a few select teams: Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal. But over the last few weeks, Arsenal’s neighbors in North London have not only dominated American soccer headlines, but the soccer press around the world. Tottenham Hotspur, always viewed as Arsenal’s little brother to the public at large, have been the focus of the soccer world, all because of their star commodity, Gareth Bale.
Bale, 24, a Welshman, is an unbelieably talented individual. A supreme athlete, Bale would be a star wide receiver or center fielder if he had grown up in the States. Instead, he has turned into one of the most talented players in soccer, a player defenders are terrfied to face. Bale scored 21 goals in the English league last year, carrying Tottenham to a 5th placed finish. Unfortunately for Spurs, however, Bale’s excellent form, which won him the Player of the Year award, has turned the head of one of soccer’s global powers: Real Madrid.
Real Madrid’s insane president, Florentino Perez, turns this story from a rational one into a story from a totally irrational world. You see, various European media outlets have reported that Perez is willing to break the world record fee of $131 million he shelled out to Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo. Now, Bale is a fantastic player, one whose best years are ahead of him. But to consider him better than Ronaldo is preposterous, and this is coming from a Spurs fan. However, the influence of Madrid is colossal. They can offer Bale Champions League soccer this season, and the Champions League is the ultimate prize for all soccer players, while paying Bale far more than he could make with Spurs.
Now Tottenham’s famously stubborn chairman, Daniel Levy, has a fascinating question on his hands: take the money by selling the best player in the EPL, or hold on to a player who has apparently demanded a transfer? I’m hoping, as a Spurs fan, that Levy holds on to his man. Because with Bale in hand, Spurs can not only move into the immensely valuable and prestigious Champions League places by the end of the season (4th place and higher), they can actually challenge for the title.
The biggest thing that the Bale media circus has concealed is that Spurs have an extremely strong squad even without their wizardly Welshman. Jan Vertonghen, a Belgian entering his second season in North London, was probably the best defender in England last season, and was justly named to the EPL’s Team of the Season. They have a promising English right back, Kyle Walker, and decent center back depth alongside Super Jan. Spurs boast an excellent midfield, one of the best in the league. All three of the projected starting midfielders (another Belgian, Moussa Dembele, and two Brazilians, Sandro and the newly signed Paulinho) are phenomenal athletes who will provide steel and class in the middle of the park. Paulinho, a signing from Corinthians in Brazil, even was named the third best player in the Confederations Cup, an international tune-up for the World Cup which Paulinho’s Brazil won. And this is without counting Hugo Lloris, Spurs’ masterful French netminder who is one of the two best goalies in the league.
One position, however, where Spurs aren’t as strong is at forward. This was evidenced last year when Bale, who is a natural left midfielder, played much of the season as a center forward. However, chairman Levy is currently making an astute signing, bringing in Roberto Soldado from Valencia. The Spaniard was prodigious during his time with his old club, scoring 81 goals in 141 appearances. While this signing isn’t official yet, Spurs and Valencia settled their final issue of agent payment today, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see an official announcement as early as tomorrow. So, when Soldado is signed, this gives Spurs huge talents across the pitch, and one world class player as the key man.
And that is why it is essential that Bale remains at White Hart Lane for at least one more season: Spurs need him. Without him, Tottenham becomes a very good side, one with a ton of good players, but without a proven star. If Bale does leave, Spurs will go through a season much like their arch-rival Arsenal went through last year: they sold their star man, Robin van Persie, to Manchester United, then watched as RVP scored 26 goals in the league as United won the title. With RVP last year, Arsenal could have certainly won, instead of finishing fourth. So there is evidence that, with Gareth Bale, Tottenham really has no limits next season.