Bale named FWA Footballer of the YearBy Christopher Davies
Photography: Action Images
Gareth Bale has been chosen as the Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association.
Bale is the first Tottenham Hotspur player to win the award since David Ginola in 1999 and the first Wales international to be selected for English football’s oldest individual trophy since Everton’s Neville Southall in 1985.
Last year’s winner, Manchester United striker Robin van Persie, was second with Chelsea’s Juan Mata third.
A delighted Bale said: "It is a huge honour to receive the Footballer of the Year award from the Football Writers’ Association.
"It means a lot to win this award when you consider the number of players that have been outstanding for their clubs in the Barclays Premier League this season.
"I've been very fortunate to be playing in such a fantastic team and I owe a lot to my team-mates and, obviously, the manager who has shown such faith in me.
"This award has been won in the past by some of the greatest names in football and I consider it a privilege that the FWA have selected me to be named alongside them."
It has been a vintage season for Bale, 23, who has scored 29 goals so far – 24 in 40 appearances for Spurs and five in eight games for Wales.
Andy Dunn, chairman of the FWA and chief sports writer for the Sunday Mirror, said: “In a contest for votes that took so many late twists and turns, Gareth’s penchant for the spectacular captured the imagination.
“He is a player who is rising inexorably towards the rarefied levels of world stars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Twice the PFA Player of the Year and now, two months before his 24th birthday, the FWA Footballer of the Year.
“Let’s all hope he lights up the Barclays Premier League for many seasons to come.”
In a poll that saw a 91 per cent turn-out from the FWA membership, Bale won 53 per cent of the votes ahead of Van Persie.
Apart from the top three, thee were a wide range of votes for the likes of Leighton Baines, Pablo Zabaleta, Michu, Michael Carrick and Rickie Lambert.
Bale made his debut for Southampton on April 17, 2006 in the 2–0 victory over Millwall aged 16 years and 275 days, becoming the second youngest player ever to play for the Saints, after Theo Walcott, who was 132 days younger. He joined Spurs in May 2007 for a fee that was initially a down-payment of £5 million rising to £10 million based on appearances and success but, later agreed at £7 million.
The Cardiff-born player was hampered by an ankle injury in his first season, which restricted him to just 12 appearances. By 2009 Bale had established himself as one of the Barclays Premier League’s brightest young talents, the lanky left-back eventually switching to a midfield role with devastating effect. Bale’s forward move came when Benoit Assou-Ekotto returned from injury to become Spurs’ first-choice left-back. Bale was too good to be dropped so Harry Redknapp played him further upfield and the player he thought would become a world-class full-back has laid claim to that tag as a midfielder.
It was two stunning displays against Inter Milan in 2010/11 – Maicon look away now – that underlined Bale’s potential as an attacking force and alerted a European audience to his speed, strength and skill. At San Siro, Spurs had played with 10 men for 80 minutes following the dismissal of Heurelho Gomes and were heading for a 4-0 defeat until a brilliant second-half display of pace and power by Bale saw him score an unforgettable hat-trick, the last two goals in stoppage-time. The 4-3 defeat felt more like a victory for the visitors because Bale’s late burst had left them stunned. The comeback provided the platform for Spurs’ run to the Europa League quarter-finals.
Chris Hughton, the Norwich City manager, was at Tottenham as Bale tried to establish himself at White Hart Lane. Hughton said: "He went through a period of a couple of seasons where he had injuries and then burst on to the scene. He perhaps doesn't have the close technical skills of a Ronaldo, Messi, Xavi or Iniesta. He is a different type of player. As an effective player he is absolutely a top, top player. Gareth can cross the ball as well as anybody. He has an incredible, unusual power and pace that can go past players at ease. He can score. He has a prowess in the air.''
Bale has always had a burning desire to be the best and admits he has learned a lot from the managers and coaches at Spurs, particularly since his move to midfield. He plays from the wing rather than on it and said: “I needed to improve myself as a player so I spoke to the coaches at Tottenham about it.
"Things had got to the stage when I was standing on the wing, playing well, with a lot of freedom, hurting teams and being targeted by defences. Being stuck outside was not good all the time. You need to mix your game up and give opponents things to think about.
"It was a case of teams putting two players on me, staying really tight and trying to mark me out of the game which is not difficult when you're stood right out there with not much room. So I've had to adapt my game. The full-backs can't follow you inside and the strikers occupy the centre-backs, so it gives you that bit of space - if you get into lots of pockets you're able to turn and run at defenders, it's just as good as being on the wing."
Inevitably Bale’s form has seen him linked with most of Europe’s traditional powerhouses. No doubt Real Madrid and Barcelona would love to take Bale to La Liga, PSG to Ligue 1, Juventus to Serie A, Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga while closer to home it would be foolish to think the Manchester clubs wouldn’t love to have the newly crowned Footballer of the Year in their side. Any team would want such a breathtaking talent, though Bale has made no signs that he is anything but happy with Spurs as they make a final push for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Bale, named Player and Young Player of the Year by the Professional Footballers’ Association last Sunday, will be presented with the trophy at the Footballer of the Year dinner at the Lancaster London on May 9.