The Gareth Bale phenomenon is nothing new. Great players have emerged overnight before, and once, with similar hype, in the lily-white shirt of Tottering Hotspur.
It was only when I was talking about Paul Gascoigne on Sky News and South Africa’s Metro FM today that it dawned on me. Gazza WAS Bale twenty years ago.
Gascoigne, for the benefit of younger readers, was a phenomenon. A young wizard from Tyneside, snapped up from Newcastle by Terry Venables and turned into a superstar in his early 20s.
At Italia 90 Gazza’s tears and skills captivated a nation, dominated the World Cup. He single-handedly took Spurs to the FA Cup final a year later, before suffering a serious knee injury in the first minute against Nottingham Forest at Wembley.
By then, aged 23, he already decided to leave Venables – a father figure much like Harry Redknapp - and White Hart Lane, beginning a journey that took him to Lazio in Italy and Rangers in Scotland for plenty of pounds. Six years later, his powers had diminished but he still shone at Euro 96 in England, ask any Scottish fan.
Now he’s just entered the Providence Project rehabilition centre in Boscombe, near Bournemouth. It’s his TENTH attempt at rehab. He became newsworthy today because he was due to be sentenced for drink driving in Northallerton, north Yorkshire. The case was adjourned until December 13 because he hadn’t briefed a lawyer. He nearly ended up representing himself. Delay or not, he faces at least 12 weeks in jail if found guilty.
Google the bloke if you’re a youngster. Gascoigne was the best around. But once he’d left the protection of Venables and Spurs, the rot set in. Drinking, burping and farting didn’t endear him to the Italian press, at Rangers he drove his car into Loch Lomond and beat his wife Cheryl, also a media star.
Then we come to self-harming and suicide bids, bulimia and obsessive compulsive disorder, if you believe the Hunter Davies biography “Being Gazza: Tackling My Demons”. It’s all there. Oh, four bottles of whisky a day or twenty pints of extra-strong lager. That’s there too.
A brief stint at non-League Boston as a 38-year-old player didn’t last in 2004 and he never quite took the coaching badges he was due to sit. He was put in charge of lowly Kidderminster a year later, but lasted just 39 days before the players complained he was drunk at training.
Most recently, Garforth Town, in something called the EvoStick Division One, announced he was their new boss. He never took the job. While Diego Maradona, a great player with a similar background, was taking Argentina to South Africa and the World Cup, Gazza was involved in a car crash that left him with a punctured lung.
Since then? Two drink driving offences, an infamous appearance at Raoul Moat’s siege and a further difficulty with cocaine, charges pending. Nothing short of a tragedy for a man of such talent. A man who had so many friends when he was making an incredible £90,000-a-week thirty years ago in Italy.
Look, I’m not saying Gareth Bale will go the same way if he was to leave the protection of Spurs. After his two classic performances against European champions Inter Milan over the past fortnight, he has risen to Gascoigne status as quickly as anybody, though he was playing well on the left last season too.
What worries me is this: Bale will now come under pressure to make the big move. Spurs, though they’re a good side under the astute and entertaining Harry Redknapp, don’t yet qualify as a major club like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea or Manchester United.
Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick both used White Hart Lane as a launch pad for Old Trafford on that basis, just as Gascoigne had done all those years before at a similar age.
Should Bale do the same? If United, Sheikh Mansour’s Manchester City or Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea made a £50m bid in January, will Spurs have any choice?
Well, yes, they will. It’s time for Spurs to be a big club. To believe in the Redknapp phenomenon which has seen the club climb from Juande Ramos’s rock-bottom in the Premier League to today’s Eurocentric peak.
To his credit, ‘Arry has come out today and said from the golf course: “We don’t want to sell him and we’re looking to build a team at Tottenham. We’re a club that’s going places – we’ve got a new training ground coming, change of stadium, the whole thing is going forward.
“They wouldn’t buy Gareth for £30m, that’s for sure. If he had a value, if we wanted to sell him, his value would be way in excess of that sort of figure. Our chairman Daniel Levy has said on many occasions we’re not looking to sell our best players now.”
Bale himself said: “I don’t take much notice of the hype. I try not to look at newspapers and just keep my feet on the floor. I'm just happy at Tottenham now; I just want to keep playing my football there and keep progressing as a player.''
But as former Spurs man Jason Cundy has been saying all afternoon on TalkSport radio: “Every player has a price. And Bale has the right to demand what he’s worth, just like Wayne Rooney.”
Sadly, he’s right. Bale will now be advised to demand a new contract – despite signing a five-year deal in the summer – before the big bids start landing in January. The last deal took him from £25,000-a-week to around £55,000. But that won’t be enough now. Not after what we’ve seen against Inter.
The big agents, the Pini Zahavis and Paul Stretfords of this world, have made sure of that. And when a player is “doing a Gazza” he can command any fee, any wage. The temptations will be enormous. Back in October, Bale’s agent Peppino Tirri was already saying he would consider a move to Italy’s Serie A. You can just imagine him rubbing his hands now.
My advice? Despite that fact I support Arsenal, stick with Spurs, Gareth. You’re only 21, Redknapp is building something special. I bet Paul Gascoigne wishes he’d never left El Tel and Tottenham in 1990.