Bale vs. Neymar: Why the Welshman Is the Best Bet to Love Life in La Liga
The first challenge for both high-profile players should moves to Spain take place this summer will be shattering a few stereotypes.
In the case of Gareth Bale, it is the notion that British footballers are dunderheaded dullards without the intelligence or ability to flourish away from their island home. Neymar is going to have to disprove the idea that the forward is nothing more than a walking billboard, a series of haircuts, a vacuous collection of Youtube clips, an over-hyped starlet piddling about in a very small pond.
The Spurs footballer has been linked with moves to Real Madrid for a good year now, and is set to be a front-page fixture in the Madrid papers for some time to come. Tottenham’s failure to qualify for the Champions League will only strengthen this hot gossip. However, there is always going to be a nagging doubt over whether the Welsh footballer (who is going to be considered "English" in Spain, whether he likes it or not), will not be written off as another Michael Owen or Jermaine Pennant, neither of whom had a good time of it in La Liga.
The Spanish league is stuffed to the rafters with footballers from all over the world, but none in the top flight from Britain, aside from on-loan Alan Hutton at Mallorca. Superior wages in England along with the comfort factor of a familiar culture and language keeps the locals close to home. A fear of failure must also be important motivation for playing it safe.
However, there is every indication to suggest that Bale could have a similar impact to David Beckham and Steve McManaman at Real Madrid, two footballers who can consider their respective spells at the Santiago Bernabeu as successful ones.
The Welshman appears mature, calm, level-headed and intelligent, someone quite dissimilar to a Spaniard’s normal experience of a Brit, which is normally related to a booze-filled stag night. The Madrid dressing room is a worldly one with plenty of former Premier League players to help the Welshman feel at home. There’s even an ex-teammate in Luka Modric.
More crucially of all, Bale appears to have the technical tools to cope with life in La Liga. After all, this is the best player of the past season in arguably the best league in the world. Bale has great technique, enormous versatility, strength, pace, energy and a heck of a shot on him. In all aspects, there’s no reason at all to suggest the Spurs man could not have a wonderful life in La Liga.
Neymar would arrive with a big price tag and a huge reputation as the next big thing from Brazil. And there have been an awful lot of those over the years. However, there must be doubts over whether his fancy pants football shown with Santos is going to cut the mustard in a league which is physically tougher than many might think.
The Brazilian may well follow a similar path as Robinho who joined Real Madrid in 2005 straight from Santos with great fanfare but was then bundled off to Manchester City three years later after an uneventful spell of being hacked down by full-backs after one stepover too many.
The more successful path followed by Brazilians who have become legends of La Liga is to start slowly in the European game. Ronaldinho spent two seasons feeling his way at Paris Saint Germain, while Ronaldo spent the same time with PSV before a move to Barcelona. This journey allowed both footballers with undoubted talent to settle into a different culture and way of playing football, without the pressure of huge price tags and inflated promise.
If both transfers take place, then Neymar is going to be thrown in at the deep end either at Barcelona or Real Madrid, with few firm indications of whether he will sink or swim. Bale has been successfully splashing around for years now and La Liga will be a step sideways rather than a huge move up. In this particular battle, it is better to bet on the Brit rather than the Brazilian.
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