Gareth Bale's Evolution: From Reviled Left-Back to Revered Forward
It's truly remarkable watching Gareth Bale breeze past players and score stunners for fun.
Why? Because every time somebody (rightfully) labels him a world-class superstar, I remember when he used to be derided and insulted till the very final whistle.
His former self—a left-back with no defensive awareness who leaked goals from his flank on a regular basis—was the subject of much worry for Spurs fans. But now he's a bona fide saviour.
After becoming the second-youngest player ever to represent Southampton, he was sold to the Spurs for £5 million with add-ons rising to £7 million. The fee was actually reduced from £10 million to ease the Saints' financial issues, but that's still a lot of dough for an 18-year-old.
He took a long time to settle, and as the Welshman racked up consecutive starts without winning a game, the "Gareth Bale curse" began to trend around UK-wide fanbases.
It took him more than 24 starts to be on the winning side, and fans would continually call for him to be subbed on when Spurs were safely two or three goals ahead with just a few minutes remaining.
"End the curse," they would scream. "Get his career back on track," they would wish.
He was a gung-ho left-back who took two seasons to rein in his enthusiasm. He left big holes as he marauded forward completely unaware of his fellow teammates' position. While his offensive skill set was clear to see, the defensive side of his game needed many weeks' work.
How times change.
Bale is now Tottenham's best player, and he threatens to be so impactful that some call Andre Villas-Boas' side a one-man team.
He is WhoScored?'s top-rated English Premier League player. He has scored eight goals from his last six and netted a hat-trick at Villa Park during the Christmas period.
Our eyebrows were first raised when he took Maicon to the cleaners twice as Spurs dumped Internazionale out of the UEFA Champions League. The switch from left-back to left-wing was pivotal, and his ability to rinse the touchline with pace and power opened a fair few pairs of eyes at the San Siro.
He looked like he had finally found his home further up the field, and the limited set of defensive skills he acquired earlier on in his career meant he was a decent option tracking and covering Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Seeing him, as a winger, hit the byline and flash a fierce ball across goal was like watching Ryan Giggs in 1997—an old-school No. 11 with chalk on his boots.
But his development didn't stop there, and after scoring a 90th-minute, 30-yard winner against West Ham on Monday night, it's clear to see he has the all-around skill set to play anywhere he wants on the field.
The touch, the pace, the power. The awareness, the enthusiasm, the determination. To be able to pull out a goal of that calibre in the dying minutes is something extraordinary.
He now floats infield at will to find the ball, probes the defence and seeks out the cracks. Despite playing "from the left" on the team sheet, AVB has given him a free role and simply has asked him to inflict as much damage as possible.
Despite all the talent he possesses, he's far from the selfish player you might expect. He's come a long way from making continuous bad decisions from left-back at the age of 19, and he rarely makes decisions based on personal glory.
From reviled left-back to world-class left-winger. Who'd have predicted that in 2007?
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