Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Gareth Bale/Cristiano Ronaldo talk stops here

Let’s stop all this Gareth-Bale-is-on-a-level-with-Cristiano-Ronaldo talk.  

Just … no.  

Don’t do that.

Bale is a wonderful, wonderful footballer who improves with each season.  When he was signed by Spurs from Southampton in the Spring of 2007, he was a precocious schoolboy left-back with a thunderous free kick.  Over the years, he progressed from defence to the midfield and two years ago announced his arrival as a truly world-class player as he dismantled Brazil right-back Maicon in front of a packed house at the San Siro.  After a down (ish) season in 2011-12, he’s re-emerged this year as one of the best handful in England – and perhaps the world.

And yet the comparisons do him a disservice. 

Yes, both started their careers by running at players from out wide, boast exquisite deadball delivery and score goals, but Bale’s career has followed a more linear trajectory than his Portuguese predecessor – at 23, Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or following 43 goals and 8 assists in 47 matches.  Rather than just spouting stats, the defining difference between Bale (perhaps the most damaging left-winger in the game at present) and Ronaldo, is that the Welshman’s game doesn’t have quite the same replete nature as his putative bedfellow.

The Varnished One was offered the centre stage at United in 2006 and took it with alacrity.  He elevated his game to the point where he is for all intents and purposes a one-man offense: lithe, quick, powerful and, as he displayed on Wednesday against Manchester United, nigh-on impossible to stop in the box

It is this versatility which makes Cristiano Ronaldo incomparable.  He may lack the pinball-style scamper of a Leo Messi, but he is the single-most athletically imposing forward of recent memory.  That doesn’t necessarily make him the best (my vote’s still for Messi), but it does make him subject to somewhat of a Catch-22: by dint of skill and demeanour, Ronaldo dominates both his opposition and the teams in which he plays.  His clubs ultimately become Cristiano-focused – and why wouldn’t they? – a cross that neither Messi, nor Bale, could bear.

This is where any comparisons break down.  There are similarities – and differences.  However, Bale hasn’t yet developed into the domineering force of will that makes Ronaldo such the game-altering force he is – for better or for worse.  In fact, as great a player as he is, Bale’s skill-set and personality probably aren’t suited to such an egocentric role.  He is/can be dominant, but few players, if any (perhaps Yaya Toure at his best) have the ability and personality to so utterly dominate both competing teams.

Don’t subject Gareth Bale to comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo.  Allow him to develop into the best player in the British Isles, if he’s not already.  It’s enough just for him to be himself, because Gareth Bale’s really good at football.

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