Gareth Frank Bale is not world class. Reasons cited include the lack of honours won and consistency. The latter comes attached with longevity. There's probably another half a dozen caveats that need to be approved before he can be rubber stamped as better than his most esteemed fellow professionals in the Premier League.
To be honest, the term world class is overused and has lost it's clarity thanks to the difficulty in quantifying the variables (and caveats) to determine a defining conclusion. It's an abstract tag. Is it truly about longevity at the very top? Does it still count if you're playing for a lesser side? If you're not winning silverware? Blow hot and cold?
Admiring and critiquing a footballer and appreciating his talents can be similar to discussing a painting or piece of art. It's in the eye of the beholder although few will disagree when a masterpiece stands before them. But some still don't rate the Mona Lisa.
To simplify it and avoid all the rationalising that could be discussed, in terms of Bale, ask yourself this...how many of the top clubs in European football would take him if he was transfer listed? Not many because only a select few would be able to afford him. We're not talking about an over-hyped player here. We're looking at one with immense talent that can be nurtured and improve tenfold and be a pivotal part of the team, ant team, right now. In fact, a key part. The x-factor that can win games.
Imagine him at United, Chelsea or City. You can, can't you? Now imagine the type of influence he would have at any of these clubs. Would any of them turn him down?
He's world class because of his ability. He's world class by the virtue of the impact he has on games. He'll cement that further if he continues to play (and improve) at the standard he's at. He'll cement it further by playing at a higher level. A title challenge or Champions League.
I could probably just end the article here, but you all know I love to write and when 300 words will do, I need to get the odd 1000 or so out of my system. So feel free to stay with me whilst I rationalise my standpoint on this. Or just skip to the bottom and read the conclusion.
In the grand scheme of things
The problem is with the term 'world class' itself. I don't
class Messi and Ronaldo world class. I class them as freakishly
superior footballers. Great footballers. They are history-making, not by the silverware won but with the football they are playing. Granted, both perform in two of the best sides (pound for pound in star quality) in the world. Even if Real Madrid have been wildly erratic this season, Ronaldo continues to score more goals than appearances made. Messi enjoys the company of Iniesta and Xavi, so that's a great player playing one-twos with other great players.
They are 'world class' by virtue of their ability, achievements and consistency. In fact they're just a couple of notches beyond it.
We are watching the two of them re-write the record books with new colourful vibrant chapters of individualistic brilliance. When I'm sat in my rocking chair at the grand age of 80 (that would be a nice innings) I'll be able to say I saw the likes of Messi and Ronaldo play football at the very peak of their powers. Some players simply walk through that barrier that takes them to greatness whilst they're still plying their trade. There's perhaps only a handful (if that) every ten years that can claim it. GREATS. Footballing greats.
Bale can only aspire to such heights of acclaim. He's not on their level. That doesn't mean he isn't good enough to line-up beside them.
To talk about Gareth Bale amongst some of the names I've mentioned is not very relevant as it's unfair and unjust and just plain silly. This isn't, at least in my eyes, a competition of comparison. One players development will differ from the next player. For sure, when Ronaldo was doing his step-overs and was generally overeager to impress, he looked like a little boy, petulant and self-absorbed. He was routinely criticised by some for not 'doing it' against the top sides.
But with each passing season, he matured. His physicality aiding his mental focus on being the very best he could be. Sure, he does love to look up at the tv screens to catch a glimpse of himself. He's very self-conscious, but he's that good, he can find the time to make sure his hair is fine whilst notching up yet another hat-trick.
If anything, his ego has allowed him to blossom in the manner he has from trickster to destroyer. He's different to the more subtly fluidity of Messi but he retains the ability to lead the line and win games all on his own. Even surrounded by other genuinely brilliant players, he stands out.
If Bale models himself on Ronaldo, I'd say that's a positive. Bale is a player with a whole host of superlative skills that used in the right way and developed in the right way could see him being every bit as effective as a Ronaldo (if not quite as heavenly as the mesmerising Messi). But this isn't about being a clone. This is about Gareth Bale being Gareth Bale in the mould of Ronaldo. Attack minded from left to centre to right, with an eye for goal and a dangerous set-piece.
Plenty of ifs and buts on where Bale will settle positionally. But more than likely he will never be anchored to just the one.
What does *it* mean?
For me, world class
simply means you're good enough to play at the very top tier(s) of
football and I believe Bale, much like the intricate Modric before him, fit into that
classification. They can play for any side. They could both easily fit into any of the top four clubs in this country (Spurs aside). And I'll be willing to bet that perception would be distorted for those currently proclaiming Bale 'isn't world class' if he wore a red shirt of Manchester United or the blue of City or Chelsea.
Bale, much like Modric will be revered far more if they won something. Well, yeah...of course. That's still not to say that a player should be penalised for not winning a cup or a title, especially when the player is still only 23 years of age. Luka, with hindsight, would probably have preferred that English move rather than the Spanish one. He transformed us when he sat in the middle conducting play. That's one player, one person with the ability of owning the responsibility of making things tick around him.
Stop and think about that. Regardless of the fact we are Tottenham Hotspur and not one of the seasoned Champions League sides or a La Liga giant...we still fundamentally rely on very similar mechanics. We've missed the magic a player of Modric can bring, the magic being the very simplicity of his movement and space-making he provided us with. So what if Marca and the supporters out in Spain can't see that. His career is in freeze-frame currently because he's not being played consistently. Sure, if that's still the case in two seasons time he'll be a player that has lost the momentum. We are then into an area of footballing semantics.
Does word class equate to remaining constant?
Consistency of performance
When Ronaldinho got a bit fat (he got fat right, don't they all?) and his night-life suddenly stagnated his performances, he lost that stature of greatness he had bestowed on him but he'll always be known as a great footballer. Just no longer world class because his performances are not at that same hedonistic level they once were.
You're world class if you prove the standard of play you're achieving is your standard play. And if you lose that consistency then you lose the intensity that accompanies it. You might still retain that world class ability and touch, be it in pockets or cameos (Berbatov anyone?). Old age (in footballing terms) can also wind down that intensity.
So to realign the argument back to what exactly constitutes world class you can take the player in question, evaluate his importance to the team he's playing for and take both his raw and crystallised abilities and roll it all up into a ball. With Bale, that ball will ripple the back of the net.
Pace, strength, technical control, match-winning goals, belief in himself. Stats can make anyone look good or bad or worse off but you do wonder how many of his crosses would be assists for want of a striker wholly complimentary to Bale's delivery. The fact he was a left-back, then a left-winger and is now growing into more of a roaming role through the middle is stupendously brilliant. There is no identity crisis. This is someone growing and refining himself.
Is Bale consistent? Is he producing world class performances every week? Save for a select few, that's an unlikely ask for most top footballers. His progression has been consistent and he continues to build on that ever so important momentum.
To simply suggest his top drawer performances are isolated incidents is a dumbed down way to look at it.
Standard of play
Now you might be the type of supporter that would prefer to spend time lowering other supporters expectations (with balance and feet firmly on ground), preferring to see the final end product before sharing a conclusive opinion. You might be the type of supporter that for whatever reason can't muster up the emotive jubilation that should engulf you whilst you watch Bale play and choose to relegate it to a mere caveat based on a bunch of boxes that need to be ticked.
How many grades of 'world class' are there exactly? When does the klaxon tell us he's hit that standard? I've already stipulated greatness to be a class above world class, so how is this meant to work?
Sure, the longer he develops and improves and instils a winning mentality and experiences Champions League football, the better he can become. The more frequent such occasions are the more he has a chance of taking a stranglehold on it and script his own personal adventure. And yes, if he performs at this level for several seasons, that helps. A lot. But that's him performing for several seasons at the level he's already at. That level already being, dare I say, 'world class'.
Is he the finished article? Of course not. But then we won't really know what that is until we discuss Bale again in say six or seven years time.
What does world class mean (to me)?
There are no boxes to tick off. It's in your heart. It's when your heart sits in your mouth. That's when you know a player is world class. When eating your heart is a regular occurrence and goes beyond the influence of anyone else around him. When you want to see a player ply his trade, when he's worth the entrance fee alone. When you the feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and dance as you watch him sprint forward with ball a yard or two ahead of him. It's a feeling I've only truly felt a few times as a Spurs fan in over thirty years.
Hoddle. Gascoigne. Klinsmann. Ginola. Berbatov. Modric. And now Bale.
Klinsmann was successful all over Europe, won World Cups. But the football produced by the rest of that list...every bit as beautiful as the German's achievements.
There's a fair few players in the Premier League that would probably claim the tag of world class for themselves, and also via proxy from their own supporters.
Rooney. van Persie. Suarez. To name just three.
Could they play for anyone? I think the latter two could easily fit into some of the best sides in world football. Especially van Persie. Alongside Suarez, their ability is unquestionable. Both possess a world class touch. Rooney, I'm not so sure (re: any side in the world). He's world class for United when it matters. That's probably enough. What I mean is, United is such a perfect fit for him, he probably shouldn't attempt to re-start at another club. The type of player Bale is, he's a far more prominent prospect for clubs above our own stature, thanks to the nature of his play. His directness, his pace.
The question isn't whether he is world class it's whether he can retain the standard he has set himself.
This accusation that Bale isn't consistent is also lazy and a fallacy that is mostly entertained by people that have no willingness for patience and understanding the game. Bale has had to adapt. Based on what? Based on constantly improving as a footballer. You think life was easy out on the left wing, doubled up, marked out of games? I lost count of the amount of times people were critical of him for disappearing in games and not being effective. If only football was so easy that opposing sides would sit back and let you attack them at will.
It's crazy irony that even Messi and Ronaldo are criticised by some. Messi, apparently lucky to be surrounded by other great footballers. Ronaldo, greedy with the ball at his feet. Again, it's all about opinions and we read the game (from one person to the next) differently. Thankfully the majority tend to rule on the side of sanity.
When Manchester United have to park the bus away to Spurs with a plan to nullify Bale - that is grand respect.
Gareth Frank Bale was a kid. He's now a young man. He's probably four years away from hitting the very peak of his powers. He's world class because what he does on the pitch, time and time again, *is* world class. Forget everything else, purely as a footballer he is capable of winning games all on his own. I hope for his legacy he wins silverware because that is for sure the one way to cement your place in history as a great. But this is not the time to even discuss a journey's end as he's only recently set off on his travels. He's still fledgling but he could easily grace any side in the world.
Did anyone expect Ronaldo to go to Madrid and replicate the form he displayed for Manchester United with such devilish comfort? Doesn't mean Bale has any guarantee to do the same. But if he possesses half the ruthless arrogance and sheer determination to succeed as Ronaldo has, then he'll be more than content and so will the supporters. Would like to think those supporters are of Lilywhite of N17 rather than the white storm of Spain's capital.
I'd also much prefer 'Spurs legend' over any other particular title of acclaim.
With twelve games left he can produce the type of performances to consolidate a top four place. This might well be his final chapter as a Spurs player. Might. But it's his might that is required to fire us back into the Champions League. For me it's simply this - he's world class with his touch and his finishing and his influence. There is a responsibility with both coach and team mates to allow for Bale to take advantage of expressive freedom but also the player is accountable for adapting accordingly and producing those match-winning fireworks.
As the team improves so does he and as a consequence so does the team. But all that concerns me is the present day, the next match and what he produces. And he is one of a very select group that can single-handedly take three points and slot them into his back pocket. That's world class.