London - Gareth Bale’s double success at the PFA Player of the Year awards ceremony capped a remarkable season for the Tottenham star, but the acknowledgement of his individual excellence has placed an extra burden on his club as they battle to fulfil his ambitions.
Bale wore a broad grin on Sunday as he was photographed with the trophies he received as his peers’ choice as both the outstanding player and young player of the 2012/13 campaign.
The 23-year-old Wales winger is only the third player to win the double accolade, following Andy Gray in 1976/77 and Cristiano Ronaldo six years ago.
He also joined Mark Hughes, Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry and Ronaldo as the only men to have won the main award twice, after his first triumph in 2010-11.
Teammates Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles saluted Bale’s excellence and then spoke of their hope that he remains at White Hart Lane. “He really is a great player, a top player,” Villa said.
“He is one of these players who can do different things. I expect he will stay at the club - they have a chance to qualify for Europe, and this is a good point for him. I expect him to play for the club for two or three more years. Everyone wants to play for these big, big clubs, but he has a lot of things to do for Tottenham.”
Ardiles, who moved to Spurs 35 years ago with his compatriot Villa, is also confident Bale will stay at the club.
“He is very happy playing at Spurs - he is a big idol there and a big hero. At the moment, he is very happy. From the point of view of a Tottenham supporter, I hope he stays.”
But, while the personal plaudits are welcome, Bale knows he cannot be ranked among the game’s true greats until he has inspired a team to domestic and European glory.
When Bale’s scintillating form was at its peak earlier this season, it became common-place to see the midfielder bracketed alongside Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Ronaldo as one of the world’s top three players.
But Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand made a valid point when he said: “People mentioning Bale in the same breath as Cristiano and Messi really don’t know football. Bale has been one of the best two in the Premier League this year, but he is not on their level yet.”
Bale’s ability to terrorise defenders with his electrifying pace and lethal finishing have helped Tottenham emerge as genuine contenders for Champions League football in recent years.
Credit must also be given to both former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, who switched Bale from left back to a more attacking role on the wing, and his current boss Andre Villas-Boas, whose decision to move Bale infield has paid rich dividends.
Yet, even with Bale’s emergence, Tottenham have been unable to secure a regular place in Europe’s elite club competition or win silverware in the domestic arena.
Villas-Boas’s team are still far from certain to qualify for next season’s Champions League despite benefiting from the best season of Bale’s career.
And that is sure to present the player with a major dilemma at the end of the season.
Bale needs to play on the grandest stages with the best players, like Messi and Ronaldo, to make the most of his skills and Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid would all be willing to offer him that platform.
Tottenham have been here before, with the likes of Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane tempted from White Hart Lane by bigger and more successful clubs.
Villas-Boas insists Bale will stay if Tottenham reach the Champions League, but even that would be only a temporary measure unless the north Londoners can build a team that befits their star player’s talents.
It is a far cry from Bale’s early days with Spurs, when he was in danger of letting his early promise fizzle out.
Tottenham paid £10million in 2007 to sign Cardiff-born Bale from Southampton, who had made him their second-youngest ever player at 16 years and 275 days.
But he was initially seen as something of a curse after failing to appear on the winning side in his first 24 matches, and Redknapp even considered selling him to Birmingham.
But Bale was too sublime a talent to remain subdued.
He blossomed soon enough, and really announced his arrival with two stunning performances against Inter Milan in 2010.
A hat trick in the San Siro was followed by a demolition job on Inter’s Maicon, then regarded as the world’s best right back, which prompted jubilant chants of “Taxi for Maicon” from the White Hart Lane crowd.
How much longer Spurs fans get to savour Bale’s best is another matter entirely.
Sapa-AFP, The Independent