Queen’s Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp claims he essentially made Gareth Bale the £86 million superstar he is today for Real Madrid but how much of an impact did Andre Villas-Boas have on the Welsh ace?
First things first, Gareth Bale began his football career at Southampton, where he spent two years developing in the Saints youth system under George Burley’s watchful eye alongside the likes of Arsenal’s Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The project at St Mary’s is one of the finest in England in terms of the quality professionals it graduates year after year.
Bale signed for Tottenham in 2007 who were still under Juande Ramos’ management – it was in fact the Spanish coach and, following his departure from White Hart Lane, Real Madrid coach, who had signed Bale from the Saints for what was ultimately a £7 million fee.
Back then, Bale was a left back and, by all accounts, not a particularly great one – Redknapp was supposedly preparing to let him go upon his arrival for the 2008/09 season in which Bale was granted just 16 appearances for Spurs in the Premier League.
“There is some right old rubbish talked about Gareth Bale’s time with me at Tottenham,” Redknapp wrote this week in the Daily Mail.
“Was I ever going to sell Bale? No. Was I going to loan him? No. I’ve heard talk - everyone from Richard Keys to Alex McLeish - making it sound as if what happened to Bale’s career was a fluke and that I never fancied him.”
Redknapp assets his belief that Bale was a star in the making and, furthermore, one of the Spurs youngsters he was most looking forward to developing.
“It’s true we had some work to do with him but he was one of the players I was most looking forward to working with when I went to Tottenham as manager…All he needed was to be toughened up to emerge as a star player,” he continued.
And work with Gareth Bale, Redknapp certainly did – for four years in which the 66-year-old English coach took Spurs from relegation candidates to Champions League contenders – prior to his sacking from the Lane last year.
Enter Andre Villas-Boas, the trendy, mid-thirties, sophisticated prodigy of Portuguese coaching, the new Jose Mourinho, the man to make Tottenham a European superpower with the world’s soon-to-be most expensive player in history and poor old Harry got relegated to the Championship with the Hoops.
It was indeed Redknapp, as he claims, who converted Bale from a left-back into a winger – Bale made 159 of his Spurs appearances under Redknapp and scored 29 of his goals (52 per cent of his total goals for Tottenham over 78 per cent of his Tottenham appearances). If anything, Harry deserves at least half, if not more than half, of the credit for Gareth Bale’s transition from promising left-back in the Spurs reserves to world record breaking superstar attacker for Real Madrid.
The problem is, when it comes to Harry, is that Bale actually became a superstar, became the PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of Year, worth £86 million to Real Madrid, under Andre Villas-Boas. Under the young Portuguese coach’s mentorship, he scored 26 goals, many of them breath-taking, and made 15 assists for his teammates last term – a huge serge in form, fitness (look at him now, he’s a machine, physically) and technique that puts him very close to the level of Cristiano Ronaldo.
If I had to make an educated guess, I’d say the credit ought to be split between the two Spurs bosses – Redknapp for giving him a chance, noticing his ability, moving his position, keeping him and trusting him there and ‘toughening’ him up as he says and Villas-Boas takes the credit for structuring a team around him that catered ideally to his needs and got the very best out of him.