Qualifying for the Champions League is a priority whatever a club's predicament. Knowing that you could lose your best player if you fall short makes it especially vital for Tottenham and Andre Villas-Boas in the coming months. The future of Gareth Bale is on the line and, with it, the continued upward trajectory of the team that he stars for.
Here's what Villas-Boas had to say about Bale in a press conference on Thursday:
Players who perform at this level will always get attention, but it doesn’t mean the club doesn’t see a future with Gareth. It is intimately related to the objectives we achieve for the season.
He is a player we rate very highly and one we are not willing to let go. At the moment we are very fortunate to have him and we think we are going to be able to reach our objectives with him at this level of form. If we reach those objectives, then hopefully we can continue to have Gareth at our club.
The message from AVB is that Bale may very well stay if Spurs achieve a top-four Premier League finish this season. If that happens, Tottenham will have Daniel Levy's money to spend and considerable lure to ambitious, big-name players over the summer. This really could be the start of something special for them.
In January, I wrote on how Villas-Boas' youthful vision was beginning to take shape. Spurs have added Lewis Holtby since then and made a valiant attempt to sign Leandro Damiao on deadline day. The Brazil international may yet arrive in the next window, according to this report by the Guardian. Even if he doesn't, Tottenham should be able to hook a world-class striker or two with a Champions League spot to dangle before them.
Their appeal will obviously be stronger with Bale on board. The wondrous Welshman has been the second-best player in the Premier League this season, according to whoscored.com ratings. Bale has 11 goals from 21 games and is inside the top 10 for accurate crosses and successful dribbles. At full throttle, he's as close to unplayable as anybody in England's top flight right now.
Only Liverpool's Luis Suarez (who tops whoscored.com player ratings) averages more shots in Premier League matches this season than Bale.
Bale's 11 goals have been very important for Spurs. Without them, they'd be nine points worse off and down in eighth place in the division. With them, they're up in fourth and on course to mix it with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Champions League next season—two of the clubs regularly linked with a move to steal Bale away from Tottenham.
It is inevitable that Bale will leave Spurs in the near future. Ironically, their very presence in the Champions League next season could seal his departure. It was Bale's virtuoso hat-trick for 10-man Tottenham against Inter Milan in the 2010-11 edition that brought his talent to the attention of the world after all.
One more season is the most that Spurs fans should hope for from Bale. If they get it, and it includes a run at Europe's premier club competition, Bale will leave Tottenham in rude health and should depart the club with the blessing of all concerned. Bale is to Tottenham what Cristiano Ronaldo once was to Manchester United—a prized asset who will ultimately become too valuable to hold on to. Football is a business, let's not forget.
But if Spurs can make the Champions League and squeeze one last campaign out of Bale, it could make all the difference to their progress. Not only will Bale increase in value (his four-year deal runs until 2016), but his putting faith in AVB's mission will help convince others to sign and that, in turn, will consolidate Spurs' position.
That way, when Bale does move on, he'll leave behind a Tottenham team with buckets of cash to spend and perhaps the strongest squad that they've had for two decades or more—albeit one that will miss him badly.
With all that in mind, it could barely be more important that Spurs secure fourth position or higher this season. With games against a resurgent Newcastle, Liverpool and north London rivals Arsenal coming up, Villas-Boas cannot afford a potentially devastating fall at this point in the race. He needs his bright, young team to step up and the fight for their future.
Bale is the man to spearhead their challenge. Whether he's back in a Spurs shirt next season could rest on its success.