For Spurs fans, too, every Bale super-show is tinged with more than a slight fear that his time at the club will become attenuated. Certainly, for every goal Bale scores—and more significantly, if three come in the same game—it seems as if there is a simultaneous punitive effect on Spurs’ long-term plans.
“He's up there with the best, he's showing tremendous skills and talent,” the Portuguese manager gushed after the evisceration of Aston Villa. “I think he's improving every game. You recognise he is one of our major assets, for sure.”
An asset that is appreciating in value all the time. It was noticeable after Bale’s first Premier League hat-trick that most of the post-match comment centred on where he is likely to go next. As if it was needed, his latest feat has confirmed that Bale is indisputably the most coveted player in world football.
Bale’s recent form befits a player with a freakish physique and exquisite technical qualities. And, as he showed in the second half at Villa Park, it doesn’t matter how many lung-busting runs he embarks upon, he always seems to have some gas left.
Spurs have been here before. The losses of Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric were, however, eminently easier to cope with. Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe more than made up for the Bulgarian’s departure with the former confirming a first ever Champions League qualification when he headed the winner against Manchester City in May 2010.
The blow of Modric’s loss has been softened by the promising form of Moussa Dembele, a player who is potentially a more complete version of the Croatian—injury permitting.
Simply put, though, Bale is irreplaceable—even if Spurs are flush with an enormous transfer wedge from his sale. While Modric always confirmed his value to the side and was a vital cog in the way Harry Redknapp wanted his team to play, his talent is not in the same orbit of Bale’s.
Beyond the obvious reasons why the sale of the Welshman could be a decisive blow—that there is arguably no-one else like him in the world—there is also the problem that faces a club of the stature of Spurs: that even if there were a replacement out there, he is very unlikely to choose the north London side when more financially rewarding offers are on the table.
To have a chance of replacing Bale—if it comes to that—may require a revisiting of the very transfer policy that unearthed him in the first place.
It is largely forgotten about now—or at least it is rarely mentioned—but Bale was one of a phalanx of players brought in with a very youth-oriented recruitment programme in mind.
Between the acquisition policies of Frank Arnesen and Damien Comolli, eight players who were signed when they were aged 22 or under—Bale, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone, Modric, Younes Kaboul, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe—started in that Champions League clincher at Eastlands.
It didn’t produce uniformly successful results. There were players such as Sean Davis, Reto Ziegler and John Bostock who didn’t quite make it. Yet, for a club like Spurs trying to compete for space in the top four with the financial clout of Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal—and whatever one’s view of the two Directors of Football are—it was a logically conceived strategy. And, much more pertinently, it paid off.
There is reason to believe that were Spurs to still favour a policy of coveting England’s best young players, then they may have more sternly rivalled Arsenal for the signature of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who was the latest explosive wide player off the Southampton production line. And, in terms of prodigious talent, the closest there has been to Bale over the past number of years.
At a glance, maybe Wilfried Zaha represents the next viable alternative.
There is always the hope that Bale sees White Hart Lane as his home for the immediate future and a little beyond. After all, Spurs’ handling of his development could not have been surpassed by any other club. Still, the feeling that this is not the last stop on Bale’s rise to stardom is presented most forcibly by his very ability.
Champions League qualification is the minimum standard requirement if Spurs are to retain his talents. However, there could be a tacit acknowledgement that even that might not be enough to retain the phenomenal forward.
In any event, it may be expedient if Spurs have some contingency in mind.