Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.
Gareth Bale: the most expensive footballer in the world. That title is pretty endearing, but it is also the truth. It wasn’t always that way, considering Bale started out his career as a left back. In fact, his career has gone through quite the transformation. From Cardiff to Madrid, the story of Gareth Bale has quite a few interesting twists and turns.
The Kid from Cardiff
A lot of things about Gareth Bale are very similar to an average kid in Wales. Born in Cardiff to parents Frank and Debbie, Gareth grew up with a tight group of friends through primary school and high school. It just so happens that many lads his age were very advanced athletically, including Wales rugby captain, Sam Warburton. PE teacher Gwyn Morris said that Bale’s age group pushed each other athletically, even attributing some of their future success to those moments in school.
It wasn’t long before scouts noticed Bale’s ability on the pitch. He ended up training at a Southampton satellite academy near his high school, eventually joining Southampton’s youth academy despite his smaller stature. Bale rose through the ranks at an astounding pace before breaking into the first team. On April 17th, 2006, Bale became the youngest (at the time) debutant to play for Southampton. He scored his first goal for the club with a curling free kick against Derby County on August 6th, 2006. Despite still having schoolboy size, Bale was blowing by opponents with relative ease using his speed to his advantage.
As his body began to mature and grow, so did the hype surrounding the kid from Cardiff. He won the BBC Wales Young Sports Personality of the Year, and was named the Football League Young Player of the Year. Despite all these accolades, Bale had a goal in mind to play in the Premier League, something he wasn’t currently accomplishing at Southampton.
With playing time as an important factor, Bale chose Tottenham during the summer of 2007. The Spurs paid a 5 million pound initial investment, with additional funds being provided for his performance. To say his first couple years at Spurs were pure disaster might be an understatement. For his initial 24 games, Bale was winless on the pitch. It was manager Harry Redknapp who ended the streak for Bale, subbing him on against Burnley with a four-goal lead and only 6 minutes left in the match. Redknapp took another chance on Bale, by shifting him further up the pitch, instead of in his traditional left back spot. The gamble paid off, as Bale began producing double-digit goal seasons, hitting his peak with 26 goals during the 2012-13 season. Then came the world record transfer.
Real Madrid forked over 100 million euros to secure the services of Bale, presenting him the number 11 to wear. He won La Liga and the Champions League in his first season in Madrid, scoring 22 goals in the process. Deployed alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, Bale helped form one of the most formidable attacking lines ever assembled. This season, the trio along with super-sub Chicharito keeps opposing defenses up at night. Where Bale is on one of the most dominant club teams in the world, he cannot say the same for his national team.
Little Nation, Big Dreams
The nation of Wales has just over 3 million inhabitants, making it one of the smallest nations to compete within FIFA. The national team has only qualified for one World Cup, 1958 in Sweden, after other nations refused to play Israel. They have also reached one European Championship, in 1976. Gareth Bale will hope to buck the trends while he is with the national team.
Bale’s rise with Southampton caught the attention of the national team, being called up to make his international debut on May 27th, 2006 against Trinidad and Tobago. Bale’s debut made him the youngest player ever to play for Wales, assisting the winning goal in the process. His potential has led many Welsh fans to believe that this generation of players could be the first to qualify for a major tournament.
Despite his individual talent, Wales has failed to qualify for any of the four major tournaments that he has been on the team. There is hope however, as Wales have come out to a hot start in Group B qualifying for Euro 2016. They sit in 2nd place with 8 points, which would qualify them to the finals if qualifying ended today. Bale, along with Aaron Ramsey, will look to lead their nation to France and their first appearance at a major tournament since 1976.
Bale’s game has always been based around his athleticism. He has pace, stamina, and agility to pair with excellent on ball skills and a powerful left leg. He began his career as a left back, and would frequently just outrun his opponents end to end. As he began playing further up the field, he developed the strength to hold off defenders in one-on-one challenges. If that wasn’t enough, Bale has great free kick ability, bending the ball with ease. The only real knock on Bale is that he has been injured frequently throughout his career.
Off the Field
Bale is a quiet person off the field. He doesn’t party the way some other superstars do. He enjoys taking vacations back to his hometown in Cardiff and seeing his parents. His girlfriend is Emma Rhys-Jones, with whom he has a child. The two met while in high school and have been dating ever since.