Note: This article was written before Gareth Bale’s transfer to Real Madrid had been confirmed, but it just as relevant now as then
Real Madrid’s pursuit of Gareth Bale has dominated the headlines this summer, and frankly, I’m a bit tired of it. Not because I think Bale should stay at Tottenham and help them get into the Champions League. Far from it. Let’s face it, Real Madrid are the biggest club in the world, courtesy of winning the aforementioned competition nine times, and not many players get the chance to play in that famous all white kit.
No, the reason I am tired of hearing of Bale to Madrid is twofold. Firstly, I don’t buy into the idea that after Ronaldo and Messi, Bale is the greatest player in the world. Secondly, I believe Real Madrid have greater needs, namely another number nine, and that the player they should really be after is a certain Luis Suarez.
Let’s deal with the issue of judging Bale’s ability first. Is Bale a great young player who has the potential to become even better? Yes. But I would hardly put him as the third best player on the planet. I think the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Frank Ribery, Radamel Falcao, and even Robin van Persie might have something to say about that. Nor is he the only promising young player out there. Thomas Muller, Mario Goetze, Eden Hazard, and Mario Balotelli are all younger than Bale and have already played key roles in the their clubs winning major silverware. Bale has not.
The constant comparisons to Christiano Ronaldo are also not entirely warranted. In the summer of 2008, the 23-year-old Ronaldo was coming off of a record setting 42 goal season. At 24, Bale is coming off a still remarkable, but relatively less impressive 26 goal season. Will Bale take his game to Ronaldo type levels next year?
The evidence would say otherwise. Ronaldo got to the level he is at by an incredible desire to perfect every aspect of his game, in many ways reminiscent of stories told of the great Pele. While both are incredible athletes, Ronaldo’s game is not based as much on pure speed as Bale’s is. Possessing great speed can often handicap players in developing other parts of their game, think Michael Owen, and whether Bale will be able to adapt his game when defenses learn to set themselves up to deny him space to run into remains to be seen.
Turning now to Real Madrid’s part in this, are they really willing to pay a figure that could be as high as £100 million for a player whose preferred position on the left is already occupied? Even if you played Bale through the middle where he played at times last season for Spurs, that would still mean displacing Mesut Ozil or Isco, two tremendously talented players, who while not offering the same pace on the counterattack as Bale, probably offer more in terms of creativity when sides sit back deep to deny Madrid space.
Strangely, after a number of summer signing already completed in defense and midfield, the one position where Madrid are lacking after Gonzalo Higuain’s departure to Napoli is the one they have seemed in no rush to reinforce. With only Karim Benzema and youngster Alvaro Morata as true strikers, Madrid are lacking in fire power for a team that aims to challenge on all fronts. Of course they still have Ronaldo, but he very much likes to play on the left side and new manager Carlo Ancelotti has said Ronaldo will play where he wants. That leaves Benzema, who can be a streaky forward, and Morata, who though already being compared to Fernando Morientes, is still only 20-years-old. Madrid’s lack of a true world class striker has been evident in their recent failings at the last hurdle in the Champions League and their reluctance to reinforce in this department is baffling.
Madrid missed out on Cavani, who has joined nouveau riche PSG, as well as Falcao, who has joined another billionaire’s club in Monaco, while Lewandowski looks set to join Bayern Munich next season. That leaves two strikers who I believe could fit the bill at the Santiago Bernabeu: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Suarez. Zlatan is a nonstarter because of his age, his wages, his perceived inability to do it in Europe, and his propensity to kick his teammates in the head. Therefore, Suarez, a player who was clearly willing to do anything it would take to agitate for a move to Madrid seems the obvious option. Is Suarez a bit of a devil? Of course. But that’s also what makes him such a brilliantly unpredictable player. Besides, what have Madrid got to complain about, they still employ Pepe after all.
It seems that much like Balotelli, Suarez’s antics have distracted people from realizing what a great player he is. Pundits continually say they have the potential to be great. Based on the way the two carried their respective team’s last season, Super Mario for Milan and Suarez for Liverpool, I would say that potential has been realized.
Suarez has exceptional technical ability, he is quick, he is a masterful dribbler, he works incredibly hard for the team, his movement and awareness are top notch, he can pull wide to open up space for midfield runners, and he has improved the one aspect of his game he is sometimes criticized for, his finishing, netting 30 goals in the last campaign. He is undoubtedly a big game player and has been a huge part of Uruguay’s success in recent years. Furthermore, Suarez is the perfect age to make the move, at 26-year-old he should be entering his peak and he would certainly fit in well in Spanish football, linking up with the attacking trio behind him at Madrid. Plus he could be had for half the price as Daniel Levy is reported to want for Bale.
Real Madrid are a club at times seemingly more interested in their Hollywood appeal than footballing success. They are rumored to have turned down Ronaldinho in favor of David Beckham because the Brazilian was too ‘ugly’ to play for the Galáticos. While this is hardly a perfect comparison, Bale resembles a monkey while Suarez has some undeniable rat like qualities, Madrid president Florentino Pérez would be wise not to repeat the same mistake.