Anyone who’s been following the Premiership this year will undoubtedly have heard rave reviews about Bale. Many players divide opinions but it seems to be that the Tiny Tott winger has been universally lauded. Some have gone so far as to compare him with Messi!
Speaking of players dividing opinions while talking of Bale the name Theo Walcott comes to mind. The Arsenal youngster has had his share of critics all through his Arsenal career to date. I have read plenty of opinions from pundits and fans that Walcott will never be good enough.
It’s an interesting contrast to say the least.
Before going further I’ll acknowledge that Gareth Bale is a very good player. He has pace, good technique, and is quite intelligent on the field. I have nothing against the Welshman and don’t wish to take anything away from his accomplishments.
Upon closer examination we do get some interesting facts about the two players in question.
Bale has scored 7 goals and has 3 assists in the League this season in roughly 1947 minutes. That comes to an average of a goal or assist every 195 minutes or more than two games. In contrast, Walcott has 6 goals and 4 assists in 664 minutes or one goal or assist every 66 minutes.
Someone might argue that we cannot read too much into those stats but they’ll have to give a strong justification in my opinion. If the numbers had been closer I’d have accepted that argument but as we can see Walcott makes an impact in one-third the time that Bale does. It’s too big a gap to ignore.
Let’s look at some other stats and performances in big games.
Theo doesn’t make as many passes as Song or Cesc. That is understandable. It’s not part of his job description. But he makes an impact, and even in the big games. One just has to look at the recent game against Chelsea to see an example of this.
In contrast, Bale has been a flop against the likes of Chelsea and United. In the last 0-0 borefest against United, Bale attempted 40 passes and completed 65% of those. He just had one shot on target and that was a lame free-kick. Out of his 9 crosses only two were successful and one of those two went all the way to Hutton on the right touchline.
Earlier, against Chelsea, even when the Blues were out of form, Bale only attempted 25 passes and completed 13 of those. And this was with Paulo Ferreira at Right Back.
When combined with the goal and assist stats mentioned earlier this does show that while Bale is a very good player, he is not really the world beater he’s made out to be. If he moved to a better team Bale might improve his numbers significantly but for the time being he isn’t shattering the earth.
This analysis made me wonder why is Bale hyped to such an extent while Walcott gets criticized even when he has a good game. Since both are British, that is certainly not a factor.
The first thought that comes to mind is the club these players play for. I’ve always believed and often mentioned, and I guess this is a feeling shared by many, that some pundits just can’t be positive about anything Arsenal. Then there are those who feel so inferior in front of Wenger that they just have to berate Le Boss and the Gunners.
On the other hand, Redknapp has a reverse effect on these pundits. He is almost at their level and makes them feel important. They reciprocate by hyping ‘Arry. It also rubs off on their analysis of the Tiny Totts. Bale has obviously benefitted from this.
The second thought, and this seems very relevant to me, was that Bale is an archetypal British player – Wide player, quick, with lots of crosses and shooting.
When the ball fizzes across the penalty box at pace it excites these pundits. It’s the point where their understanding and Redknapp’s tactics come together. They see it as the best form of football. It doesn’t matter that in most cases, no striker will ever be able to get on the end of these crosses. They don’t realize that statistically these crosses are extremely inefficient and are directly responsible for Bale having such a low minutes per goal/assist ratio.
Ideally, in their opinions, Walcott should have been a similar player. But he doesn’t always “whip it in with pace”, or “get it into the right areas”. They don’t like it. They don’t like the fact that his manager is trying to teach him something different, more intelligent, and three times more effective!
These pundits are happy if half a dozen meaningless crosses whiz across the penalty box. They don’t appreciate it when a player gets to the byline and tries to look for a good pass. They deride him when he tries to think at a high speed and fails.
When I thought of it this way, it wasn’t difficult to see why Walcott is treated the way he has been. Nor is it hard to understand the hype around Bale. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Walcott is great or that Bale is no good. I like both players. I just don’t like the differences in general perception about the two, especially as they’re completely unjustified and fuelled by ignorant, misguided punditry. Unfortunately, too many people seem to get conned by these experts. Are you one of them?
PS: Sorry for going AWOL in the last couple of days. It’s really hectic. Even for this piece I barely found time at midnight. And apologies if that’s led to any bloopers. I haven’t been able to double check the details or proof read the post.