The turnover at Spurs in the last four years must have worn out the hinges on the training ground’s door.
34 players, youthful and talented, experienced and hardy, have put pen to paper on a Tottenham deal in that time—but of them managed to change the fortunes of the underachieving North London club.
When Spurs parted with a reported £10m to acquire Welsh teenager Gareth Bale this summer, then, it didn't take long for the 17-year-old to be burdened by expectations.
Manchester United had refused to meet Southampton's asking price, leaving Spurs as the only suitors. Bale's arrival drew obvious comparisons to that of Theo Walcott at Arsenal, where the pacey young forward cost Arsene Wenger a potential £12m and earned only a handful of starts.
That disappointment caused some skeptics to questions Bale's promise.
Bale’s rise at Southampton was similar to Walcott’s: Both were 16 when they made their full Championship debut, and their full international call ups were both soon in coming.
Critics also worried about Bale's ability to make the transition to left wing from left back before his first game against Manchester United. On top of the inherent pressure of being a £10m transfer making a debut three games into a season against the defending champs in front of 76,000 Old Trafford...the youngster was playing out of position.
But he didn't disappoint.
Any doubts about Bale were extinguished in a fine performance, with the away support gleefully chanting that United’s own Ryan Giggs was “just a sh*t Gareth Bale”.
Bale’s second appearance in the Spurs colours was another mature display, as he took apart Fulham’s right side and netted his first goal in fine style.
It's far too early to say anything about Bale's long-term prospects, but his first impression has been a good one—Wales coach Roy Evans has earmarked him for greatness, and many at White Hart Lane are already beginning to forget the left-side problems that dogged Spurs the last few seasons.
The different arcs followed by Bale and Walcott are instructive. While Walcott played only 20 games for the Saints before his move to Emirates Stadium, Bale chose to stay on as a first-team regular at Southampton in 2007. By the time Bale made his Spurs debut, he had 40 Championship appearances and five international caps to his name.
That experience undoubtedly helped him make the transition to the Premiership
Bale is one of only three left-sided players at Spurs, which means he's likely to pick up much more time on the field in his debut season. At six feet tall, he won't afflicted by the physical intimidation that more diminutive players can succumb to. Trained as a defender, he doesn't look likely to shirk a challenge, and, as a natural left-footer, will provide the balance and width his new team needs.
Bale's confidence comes from a belief in his own ability, instilled in him by a full season of competitive football and international coaching from the likes of John Toshack. It seems the heavy burden that can come with an expensive price tag isn't going to trouble the young Welshman.
If nothing else, Bale has already shown that he wishes to repay the faith the Spurs management invested in him. Hopefully the tired hinges on the door at Tottenham’s training ground can rest a little easier, knowing that an 18-year-old from Cardiff has finally filled an unfillable void.
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