After a summer of toing and froing Gareth Bale has finally completed his protracted world-record transfer from Real Madrid to Tottenham Hotspur for an eye-watering £85.2 million. It is the fifth time in succession that Real Madrid have bettered the previous record fee for a player, but is Bale really worth all that money?
It is certainly not the first time a continental club has paid top dollar for a Welsh forward. Previous results have ranged from superlative (John Charles at Juventus), to average (Mark Hughes at Barcelona) to poor (Ian Rush at Juventus), but Bale, having confessed that moving to Madrid was his boyhood dream, looks to have the necessary will and determination to ensure he is a success in the Spanish capital.
His improvement in recent years has been staggering. He was on the verge of a move to Nottingham Forest before an injury to Benoit Assou-Ekotto provided him with a first team opportunity at Spurs and he has not looked back since, transitioning from an attacking full-back to a left winger and finally, over the last couple of seasons, to a dangerous forward capable of playing across the entire attacking midfield line.
Bale’s 21 goals took Spurs to the brink of a Champions League place last season and in the second half of the campaign it was his late goals that were often the difference between one point and three, notably in late season victories over West Ham, Southampton and Sunderland. Andre Villas Boas built his side around the Welshman and was rewarded with more than twice the number of league goals Bale had scored in the previous season.
Bale’s determination, physique and long-range shooting ability have seen him compared to Madrid’s current star man, Cristiano Ronaldo, and there have been suggestions – as yet unsubstantiated – that Ronaldo is not best pleased about Bale’s arrival, particularly in light of the transfer fee besting the £80 million Madrid paid to sign him from Manchester United in 2009.
On the pitch, it will be interesting to see if Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti can get the best out of two players so similar in style, especially in consideration of their shared inclination to shoot whenever possible. In the Premier League, only Luis Suarez attempted more average shots per game than Bale’s five last season, while Ronaldo took an average of 6.9, comfortably the highest in La Liga.
Ancelotti is not a coach with a fixed ideology or tactical template and has, over the years, displayed a canny knack for getting the best out of individual talent. He employed a 3-4-1-2 formation at Juventus to allow Zinedine Zidane freedom to create without sacrificing width, and at Milan he converted Andrea Pirlo into a deep-lying playmaker and placed him between two tigerish tacklers (Gennaro Gustavo and Massimo Ambrosini) to give him the requisite protection to dictate play from deep.
Madrid have started the season in a 4-2-3-1 formation and Bale is likely to take the place on the right flank previously occupied by Angel Di Maria. He and Ronaldo will cut in towards goal, while another new signing, Isco, will create from the centre. The former Malaga player scored twice in Madrid’s 3-1 victory at home to Athletic Bilbao and has been very impressive since his €30 million move. He will certainly provide Bale with stiff competition for the title of best new recruit.
It is clear that Bale will take some time to settle, as the stresses of adapting to new challenges on and off the pitch take their toll. But given time to establish himself and if utilised effectively by Ancelotti, he still has the necessary ability to make a strong impact in his first season in Spain.
BetVictor (£25 free bet) are currently offering 10/11 for Bale to score over 14 league goals in the remainder of the season. With 35 matches left to play and Bale only needing to score a goal every other game across 30 of them to beat that total (in a league in which Ronaldo scored 34 times in 34 appearances last season), we feel that offers good value.
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