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With two sweeps of the left boot at White Hart Lane on Thursday night, Gareth Bale salvaged a win for Spurs after falling behind in the first leg of their Europa League tie with Lyon. Two free-kicks that dipped and swerved deviously past Remy Vercoutre in the visiting goal gave Bale’s side a lead to take back to France next week and intensified comparisons between him and Real Madrid’s world-beating winger, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Many will be quick to gather perspective and urge caution with such comparisons, but Thursday’s last minute free-kick, which emulated not only Ronaldo’s stunning technique but also his cool ability to produce the sublime from the crushing pressure of occasion, became Bale’s 21st goal of a season that is merely hinting at Ronaldo-type figures.
Over in Spain, the Portuguese is currently operating in a whole different stratosphere with 34 goals from 35 games, the latest being a supernatural header to draw Madrid level against Manchester United in a scintillating Champions League tie on Wednesday.
Ronaldo has repeatedly proved he is the player for the big occasion and Bale, with Thursday night’s salvo, is beginning to show he can provide the same trait.
Winning points for Spurs without assistance has already been proven as Aston Villa, whom he ripped apart with a devastating hat-trick, West Bromwich Albion, Norwich and Newcastle can all recently testify. Each goal has been a window into his burgeoning talent, the ability to brush past defenders with ease, the chilling acceleration to rev away from attention and an unerring finish.
There are the pair of free-kicks he hit vs Lyon and the shift of balance long-range rocket he hit vs West Brom, a wide array of goals that Ronaldo holds in his locker to ensure he can achieve such jaw-dropping numbers as 136 goals from 123 matches in Madrid.
Perhaps the more rational football fan would appreciate Ronaldo is playing in a different atmosphere, only rivalled by Lionel Messi, with whom he competes annually for the title of world’s best player, and would bracket Bale a degree or two lower than the La Liga based duopoly.
Bale himself has conceded that he has a lot of work to do before he can be mentioned in the same breath as the two sitting at the plateau of world football. “I’ve got a lot of improvements to make” he said, “I know what I’ve got to do, which is to keep improving in all areas. I’ll keep working hard and, hopefully, become a better player”.
Despite the injury to Jermain Defoe and absence of Emmanuel Adebayor to the African Cup of Nations which exposed Spurs’ lack of squad depth in attack, Bale has, almost single-handedly, maintained their grip on the Champions League qualification places, which is probably Spurs’ only chance of keeping the Welshman beyond the summer, by hitting the most incredible patch of form.
Yet, he remains modest and ambitious enough to aspire to improve, suggesting a superb attitude off the pitch that harnesses his remarkable ability on it.
The manager who is reaping the rewards of Bale’s sublime form and talent, Andre-Villas Boas, has immediately bought into the Ronaldo comparisons. “Yeah he’s going through a great individual moment” he replied to a question that linked the two-wingers, “he is scoring lots of goals for this team and I think it is is best scoring year for Tottenham” said the Portuguese boss.
One may argue that such premature adulation could affect Bale mentally, but it is indicative of the confidence and assuredness with which the winger is now performing that his manager is not afraid of possibly compromising it.
His Spurs lie four points clear of rivals Arsenal as current incumbents of fourth place and on a run of just one defeat in fourteen matches that has bought the objective of Champions League qualification nearer to reality.
Villas-Boas knows Bale is integral to the prospect of keeping the run going yet is willing to risk burdening him with the added weight of hype and expectation that comes with comparisons to the world’s best. It is a show of the consummate faith the manager has in his winger.
Bale is only 23, five years Ronaldo’s senior, and is showing the promise of an extremely bright future. His eleven goal total of 2010/2011 and the twelve of 2011/2012 will remind many that this is the first season he has been this prolific and that he will have to reproduce this form on a consistent basis, just like Ronaldo does year upon year, to be held in such high esteem.
The weight of expectation will get heavier and the hype will get louder, it is up to Bale to show he can deal with it just like he is showing he can do pretty much everything else.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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