Does Gareth Bale Have the Potential to Win the Ballon D'Or?

Oliver FieldContributor IIIJanuary 17, 2014

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, background, from Portugal, celebrates with teammate Gareth Bale, from Wales, after scoring their side's third goal during Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano at the Vallecas stadium in Madrid, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013. Ronaldo scored twice in Real Madrid's 3-2 victory. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Francisco Seco/Associated Press

Cristiano Ronaldo took home his second Ballon d'Or on Monday amidst a flurry of media attention. The 28-year-old made his desire to reclaim the trophy publicly known, and he wept upon receiving the honor.

The whole ceremony was met with a bit of controversy, as individual ballots became public. Though Franck Ribery, Lionel Messi and Ronaldo were far and away the favorites for the award, many voters had other ideas.

Ronaldo and USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann were among those who had Gareth Bale on their ballots. While Bale had an outstanding campaign with Tottenham a year ago, he has struggled with fitness since arriving at Madrid in September.

Yet his value is clearly recognized. The Welshman received 25 votes in total, indicating that he was somewhere near the conversation for best player of the year. At 24 years of age, the winger has plenty of time to fine-tune his craft, raising questions about how much potential he has yet to fulfill.

What are the chances Bale will follow in Ronaldo's footsteps to win the trophy?

It is easy to draw comparisons between the two players. Both found success as true wingers in the Premier League before finding an eye for goal. Like Ronaldo at Manchester United, Bale spent his last season in England floating across the pitch in the attacking third.

Tottenham relied on his play heavily, utilizing the Welshman through the middle and on either flank. His return of 21 league goals was remarkable for a player who had yet to reach double digits in any other season.

Yet examining Ronaldo's scoring history, the two faced a similar acclimation toward goal scoring. Prior to Ronaldo's breakout year of 17 league goals in 2006-07, he had scored four, then five, then nine goals.

Prior to Bale's prolific season, he had scored three, then seven, then nine. While the two were strong, tall, athletic wingers, they slowly found a way to be more involved around goal. Their slow but steady knack for finding the net resulted in a new role for the players.

Despite some adversity in his first season with Madrid, Bale is continuing that scoring form. In just 12 league appearances, he has found the net seven times. While he won't be able to play a full 38 games this season, that is on pace for another 20-plus goal return.

Ronaldo must recognize that he can only perform at this peak for another few years. Though Bale's astronomical transfer fee looked ridiculous to some, it was clear that his purchase was not only for instant reinforcement, but for the future of the side—one without Ronaldo.

It will be a sad day for Madridistas everywhere, but at some point in the not-too-distant future, Bale will take the reins from the Portuguese captain. He will regain his roaming role and continue to develop his goal-scoring exploits.

Much has been made of his rocky start to life in Spain, but the player has been solid thus far. With a full season to acclimate and an offseason to get fit, he will surely get back to his best.

Bale has all the tools to emulate his teammate. He has the size, strength and skill. His free-kick collection is growing. Perhaps most importantly, he has the surrounding talent to provide him with support for years.

Exciting young players tend to come and go, but Bale has the potential to be a true superstar. The Welsh winger received a number of votes for his performances this year, but the best is yet to come. With the right players by his side and the freedom to take over games, Bale will surely become a favorite for the award before his career is over.