Currently enjoying a meteoric rise through the elite ranks of football, a debate to flare up of late is that of just where Gareth Bale stands against the world’s biggest talents.
The Welshman is enjoying arguably his best season to date, propelling Tottenham Hotspur into top-four Premier League contention as well as a very respectable Europa League run.
Given the infrequency in which football’s superstars actually go head to head, it’s often difficult to actually ascertain who the best players truly are.
Instead, we rely upon facts, figures and statistics to feed us our opinions on who ranks nearest to the upper echelons of the sport and even then the truth can be obscured by the circumstances or divisional differences with which such results are achieved.
For example, one might claim that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the two best players in the world, a perfectly just opinion and one that many would find difficult to argue against.
However, playing in La Liga isn’t the same as the Premier League, and whether that might be to the detriment or benefit of the duo, it’s still a veritable factor worth considering in such arguments.
In addition, when deciding the world’s best players, do we credit attackers, the goalscorers, with too much seniority in the rankings? Isn’t a defender or midfielder capable of preventing three or four goals per game just as valuable as a forward capable of scoring the same amount?
In Bale’s case, the 23-year-old appears to have found a very potent balance between the two.
Having started out his career as a left-back with Southampton—a club somewhat famed for their production of young English talent—Bale still shows glimpses of his former self and is far from above coming back to help in defence.
Now a winger by nature, the Welshman has excelled under the attacking responsibilities first given to him by Harry Redknapp.
That being said, there is room to argue that Bale’s improving numbers at White Hart Lane could be due to the player’s talismanic status with the north London club.
Recent months have seen Bale linked with a big money move to Real Madrid (via Mirror) but would such a move see Bale, just as Modric has and Kaka before him, fade into the shadows somewhat amongst the presence of other superstars?
At first glance, one might think that a superstar is someone capable of doing great things on an individual level but the ability to flourish as part of a bigger squad and enhance the standards of those around is perhaps the greatest definition of a truly superb talent.
The wide man enjoys similar “talisman status” on the international scale and sticks out as a particularly strong component of the Welsh national side.
In that sense, Bale is yet to prove himself but there is certainly a counter-argument to claim otherwise.
With a seemingly limitless source of speed in his Arsenal, Bale has that most basic of abilities needed by any winger in that he can beat the opposite man with relative ease, finding a crucial pocket of space deep behind enemy lines from which he can deliver deadly ammunition.
However, any winger can boast the power of speed, but it’s Bale’s close control and strength in dribbling at supersonic speeds with the ball at his feet that puts him in that higher bracket of player.
Perhaps the greatest example of such play is Bale’s one-man demolition of Inter Milan back in the 2010-11 edition of the Champions League, where Maicon fell victim to the Welshman’s talent first-hand.
In two appearances against the Serie A outfit, Bale contributed with a hat-trick performance in one leg and two assists in the other, perhaps first putting him on the map as he demonstrated his skill against top European opposition.
While assists are vital for one playing in Bale’s position, it’s the Spurs star’s tendency to go above and beyond in his duties that sets him apart from the average, with a frequency to score goals falling into that extra-curricular area.
Whether it’s from his specialism in taking superb free-kicks, an acrobatic volley or a long-range thronker, Bale’s terrific athleticism allows him to attempt and accomplish those rare pieces of majesty that others can simply dream of.
With 17 goals and nine assists to his name across all competitions already this season, the Welshman’s rounded game is certainly of an elite standard, concentrated more on neither scoring nor provision but striking a great balance between the two.
Looking at some of the other elite players in the world, one can see that such an equality among contributions is hard to find and that players more regularly find fortune in one respect or the other.
Superstars such Edinson Cavani, Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao all earn their value from finishing chances, not making them, while the likes of Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Franck Ribery and Cesc Fabregas all excel with responsibilities of putting the ball on the plate for their teammates.
Apart from the Messi and Ronaldo ranks, players like Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Mario Götze, Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller—all of whom would almost definitely be counted in highest of brackets—can also boast the kind of balance Bale can.
From that understanding, Bale could certainly be labelled as one of the world’s best players right now, but for the attacker to truly pen his status as just that for years to come, he may find his status stunted as a Tottenham player.
If rumours of a move to Madrid were to prove true, Bale would really have the opportunity to stand out amongst one of Europe’s giants and either sink or swim under the pressure.
Just as Neymar’s potential is doubted amongst some because of the competition he’s currently facing in Brazil, Bale’s talent could either find its obstacle or improve significantly were he to make a move elsewhere in the near future.