FOX Soccer Exclusive
Gareth Bale injury leaves Spurs in flux
To be given the thumbs-up by Zinedine Zidane is to be touched by greatness. Now the rest is up to Gareth Bale. But how quick can the game shows its cruel nature? Thursday’s Europa League clash at North London serves as an excellent example.
Just days after being praised by the French living legend, Bale crumpled in agony to the White Hart Lane turf. Tottenham’s match against Basel was almost over at 2-2 and we were just thinking how Spurs would need a significant performance from the Welsh wizard in Switzerland next week when he clashed with substitute David Degen and fell awkwardly on his right ankle.
Fears of serious damage were soothed by Spurs coach Andre Villas-Boas, who said that, although Bale was in a lot of pain, had suffered the injury before and would probably miss only two games rather than the rest of a season that could yet signal a breakthrough for the club and bring Bale the Footballer of the Year Award.
"We recognize the form the player is in and the squad will step up a level for his absence, “said Villas-Boas. "He rolled on his ankle and, at the moment, there is a lot of pain, but hopefully it is not as bad as it could have been. We've played without Bale before and we've got the results that we needed.”
We shall see. Tottenham’s next two games are big ones - against fellow UEFA Champions League contender Everton at home Sunday and then next Thursday's return against Murat Yakin's men, whose away goals make them favorites to reach the Europa League semifinals. According to Villas-Boas, Basel is the strongest opponent Spurs have met since he arrived at the Lane.
"It wasn't a bad result,” added Villas-Boas. “Everyone plays with great belief we can go through. This Basel team was probably the best team I have ever seen at White Hart Lane. All the recognition goes to a top opponent we had to play here tonight."
For once, Bale found himself overshadowed for most of the night. When Zidane said no player in Europe this season had impressed him more, some assumed it to be a sign that Real Madrid - where Zidane advises president Florentino Perez - were preparing a summer bid for Bale.
But it can only have been a genuine, unauthorized testimonial for, if Perez had been setting up negotiations with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, he would hardly want the asking price to rise to near the world record $120 million Real Madrid paid Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Yet, no one thinks Bale has yet reached the incredible standard set by Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Zidane's point was that we knew all about them before - and what this season has proved is that Bale can join them on the world stage across which Zidane one strode with such style, capping his club career with the sensational left-foot volley that helped Real beat Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League final.
Bale hopes to be in the Champions League next season. For now, he must content himself with the Europa and even that may last only one more match. For even before his mishap events at White Hart Lane reminded the man of the moment that soccer has a habit of cutting you down to size.
Just 33 minutes into the first leg, Villas-Boas's team was trailing by two goals. Bale, once a rampager down the left flank but now operating in his new position behind main front man Emmanuel Adebayor, found himself crowded out by such keen protectors of the penalty area as Serey Die and Mohamed Elneny.
Meanwhile, Tottenham’s defense kept dropping its guard, letting Valentin Stocker and then Fabien Frei claim the goals that left the London team facing an almost certain exit.
Something had to happen in the short time before the halfway interval and, in keeping with what was to develop into a highly entertaining game - just the kind the fans needed to help them forget the coldest spring in memory - two things happened.
The first brought Spurs back into contention, Adebayor opportunistically touching in from close range. The second bizarrely denied them an equalizer. After Lewis Holtby, surging into the danger area, had been stopped almost on the goal-line, Scott Parker stepped in. It seemed he had only to tap the loose ball over the line - but instead it hit the prone Holtby, stayed out and was cleared.
But the leveler did eventually come. Gylfi Sigurdsson had replaced Aaron Lennon -doubtful beforehand with a hamstring problem - midway through the first half and it was the Icelander who did the trick.
The Swiss defense took a chance in letting him drift in from the left and he took brilliant advantage, letting go a drive that swerved and dipped just under Yann Sommer's crossbar.
Villas-Boas reacted by sending on Clint Dempsey, who slotted in behind Adebayor with Bale moving to the left. But Basel continued to give as good as they got, especially the skillful Stocker, and Spurs had to endure an anxious last few minutes with only 10-men as William Gallas was allowed to limp off after the coach had used all three substitutes.
''We limited the damage,'' said Villas-Boas, ''but we know we are going to have to play a lot better over there.''
In all probability, Spurs will face Basel next week without their most valuable player.