Reports were surfacing on Monday about news that Gareth Bale was set to sign a new contract with Tottenham Hotspur, giving fans a major boost so soon after the disappointment of failing to qualify for next season's Champions League.
Spurs only managed a fifth-place finish for the 2012-13 season, so exactly how much of a boost will Bale staying give them as they attempt to progress higher in the Premier League standings next term?
The Guardian is reporting that the attacking midfielder will be handed a new deal worth around £150,000 per week—but the extended contract comes with a caveat in the form of a release clause for Bale should any clubs table a bid of £50 million or more next summer. Tottenham's aspirations for next season are clear: They want to go at least one step further than they did this year and qualify for the biggest cup competition on the continent.
What Did Bale Contribute?
Bale's 21 league goals this season were a huge part of Spurs' attempts to reach the top four; he scored a third of all his side's league strikes and netted 26 in all competitions in 44 matches.
While under Harry Redknapp, Bale had made his name as a flying winger on the left flank; this season has seen Andre Villas-Boas utilise the Welshman in an altogether more roaming role. He has played left, and this is frequently his starting position, but more and more often Bale will operate centrally behind the striker, breaking forward into space from deep and utilising his phenomenal ability to shoot from around the 20-metre mark.
An alternative tactical ploy from Villas-Boas has been to shift Bale over to the right side later in games, looking to make use of space in the channels and cut infield on his preferred left foot—as the likes of Southampton and Sunderland have found out to their cost, late on in the season.
Aside from his goals, Bale also contributed nine assists and ranked in the top 10 of the entire Premier League for shots per game, key passes per game and dribbles per game.
In short, he proved a versatile and extremely effective attacking weapon for Spurs, and Bale remaining for another season is arguably more important to Tottenham than any individual new signing could be.
How to Build the Team around Him
Spurs added several attacking talents last summer in the shape of Clint Dempsey, Moussa Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson, but the big-name central striker they wanted eluded them. Emmanuel Adebayor completed a permanent move, but his overall season has been rather woeful, despite a late spate of goals in the campaign. Lewis Holtby, a versatile attacking midfielder, also joined in January.
Presuming Bale's primary role in the team will indeed become the central attacking position behind the striker, there are two areas of obvious concern for Spurs to address in summer.
That striker—be it Hulk, Gonzalo Higuain or any of the other strikers they have been linked with already—must be one who is able to bring out the best in Bale. He must be possessed of the pace to run into the channels behind the opposition defence, feeding onto Bale's runs and passes, but also having the awareness to drop deep when required, leaving space in behind for Bale's powerful and pacy driving runs with the ball at his feet.
It's also worth noting that for all his goals, Bale only registered a 12.7 percent shot conversion rate. While plenty went high or wide, 21 goals from 165 shots still leaves an awful lot of efforts to follow up on inside the penalty area—if the striker has the energy and predatory instincts that the sluggish Adebayor and inconsistent Jermain Defoe have been unable to display on a regular basis.
Secondly, Spurs need to find a reasonably quick replacement for Bale in the left area of midfield.
Sigurdsson and Dempsey have, between them, managed to fill in for him and provide a mix of endeavour, goals and movement in the final third, but the injuries of Aaron Lennon on the opposite flank at times exposed Tottenham for a rather slow-moving attacking team.
Will Danny Rose be kept and pushed into midfield? Will Andros Townsend be handed an opportunity to shine? Or is it another area which Villas-Boas must spend money on, and make the right call?
Behind the attack, the midfield base of Dembele and Sandro is as good as the Premier League has to offer when both are fit and in-form, but both need more quality competition or replacements than Scott Parker and Tom Huddlestone have been able to offer this season.
Do Spurs Have Enough to Break the Top 4? Top 2?
That's the big question: Can Spurs, with Gareth Bale in place, crack the top four once more?
Out of the past four seasons, Spurs have finished fourth twice—though they only tasted Champions League action once, after Chelsea's victory in the competition in 2012 ensured Tottenham were edged out this time around.
In truth, Tottenham have already shown this season that they are very, very close to one or two other sides in terms of quality and consistency; the trouble is that even though Spurs will add to their squad over the summer, so will those other sides.
Chelsea and Arsenal will both strengthen in the close season, perhaps considerably, and Tottenham need to not only keep pace but add more quality than those two rivals.
The Premier League title could be set for its widest-open race next year.
Out of the top five clubs, only Arsenal and Tottenham will begin the 2013-14 campaign with the same manager they ended the last one with. It represents an exciting opportunity for the chasing North Londoners, but for Spurs, at least, they must certainly aim for third or fourth place next year. Anything beyond that can be taken as a bonus—but the first step is to re-establish themselves inside that top-four cut-off.
And with Gareth Bale in the team, they have a much greater chance of managing it than if he was to depart White Hart Lane this summer.