x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

There's no one-man show as teamwork allows Gareth Bale to shine

After Gareth Bale's masterclass against West Ham United seemed to suggest Tottenham Hotspur were nothing more than Bale and 10 nonentities ... newspaper reports linked him with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City.

Gareth Bale, left, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Gylfi Sigurdsson as more of their Tottenham Hotspur teammates run to join them.
Gareth Bale, left, celebrates scoring the opening goal with Gylfi Sigurdsson as more of their Tottenham Hotspur teammates run to join them.

Football-speak draws heavily on the cliche.

If only a few of those draws had been wins then that Uefa Champions League spot would have been won or Premier League survival achieved.

And what of the hapless striker who misses three chances and suddenly, to a commentator, he (probably Fernando Torres) "could have had a hat-trick".

These are just speculation but in football, they are accepted truisms.

Then there is the delusion du jour, the "one-man team".

Last week, after Gareth Bale put on a two-goal masterclass against West Ham United, many media analysts seemed to suggest Tottenham Hotspur were nothing more than Bale and 10 nonentities, and fevered speculation over his likely career arc, based on his singular ability to decide a match, went into overdrive.

Overnight, newspaper reports linked him with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City.

"We have really been beaten by Gareth Bale," said Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager.

Abu Dhabi Sport's guest analyst Andy Townsend went further.

"Tottenham would be nothing without him," he said. "Who else in that team can do anything like that?"

The statements were, to be blunt, ignorant.

An over reliance on one player can be a problem in case of injury, but such hypothetical scenarios should not be used to discredit the wonderful run of results Tottenham have achieved since December.

As fantastic as Bale was, he was doing the job that Tottenham's system has allowed to him to carry out.

Where was the widespread acknowledgement for Andre Villas-Boas's tactics, consistently lauded by the The National columnist Jonathan Wilson?

Or the credit to his teammates who selflessly carry out their roles, maximising the potency of their most-gifted scorer?

On Sunday, those players provided the perfect response to the week-long Bale love-in with a 2-1 win over Arsenal, their North London rivals, in what can accurately be described as an excellent team performance.

Bale scored again, but for once he was far from being Tottenham's best player. That surely was Jan Vertonghen, followed by his central-defensive partner Michael Dawson, and probably Mousa Dembele and Kyle Walker.

Bale put in a perfectly adequate shift supporting his teammates.

But not carrying them.

Bale is by no means the only Premier League footballer deemed to have excessively broad shoulders.

How often this season have we heard: "Where would Liverpool be without Luis Suarez?"

Spend a few minutes on Twitter, and one can find populist pundits making absurd statements like: "Without Suarez's goals Liverpool would be in the relegation zone" - nonsense that warrants guffaws.

To prove the point, Suarez's hat-trick at Wigan Athletic on Saturday came in, arguably, Liverpool's best team performance of the season.

This may be trendy but it is not new; the notion of one-man teams is as old as football.

Perhaps the most famous one-man construct centres on Argentina's World Cup-winning team of 1986 - Diego Maradona, at the peak of his powers, dragging a bunch of no-hopers to glory.

Unlike Pele in 1970, "El Diego" had no Jairzinho, Tostao, Carlos Alberto or Rivelino to share the load.

Or so goes the legend.

Indeed, Maradona was joyously unstoppable, as the English and Belgian defenders would testify, and without him Argentina would have struggled to reach the final. And, no doubt, Mexico 1986 was the last (and perhaps only) World Cup to be so dominated by one individual.

But behind the fantasy lay a more complicated reality.

In Mexico, Argentina's tactics-obsessed coach Carlos Bilardo introduced the 3-5-2 formation into football's mainstream.

With the attacking wingbacks providing strength in midfield when Argentina were in possession, the team could afford to have a man in a free role.

Guess who that man was?

Without the excellence of the goalkeeper Nery Pumpido, the sweeper Jose Luis Brown, the defensive strongman Oscar Ruggeri, the Real Madrid striker Jorge Valdano and the World Cup-winning goal scorer Jorge Burruchaga, and the rest, would Maradona have performed at such a memorable level?

Bale may not be Maradona, but his team similarly plays in a system that is geared for him to wreak havoc, as Liverpool did with Torres before his move to Chelsea, and do now with Suarez.

Tottenham fans should not rage against the one-man team jibe.

It should be music to their ears, proof that on the pitch their team are doing their job.

Not even the greatest footballers can thrive or even survive in a vacuum.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

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