I swear after this week, I'm declaring a moratorium on writing about any potential transfer for Tottenham Hotspur's Welsh winger (and sometimes defender) Gareth Bale. Given Harry Redknapp's comments over the weekend it's clear that he believes that the PFA Player of the Year is irreplaceable. I, however, believe quite the opposite.
This is on of the many times in which I hate the lack of statistics available for soccer. Statistics are one of the reasons I love baseball. Being able to calculate a players Wins Above Replacement (WAR) or Value Over Replacement Players (VORP) is an incredibly useful tool. Aside from those two metrics there's countless other statistics that accurately reflect the value of a given player to a team. Those sorts of numbers aren't available in soccer and so I can only provide my opinion.
To me, there are truly only 2 irreplaceable positions on a soccer team. The first is goalkeeper. A good goalkeeper is invaluable. How different of a team would Chelsea or Manchester United be without Petr Cech and Edwin Van der Sar in goal? The other irreplaceable position is the Number 10. A creative attacker like Zinedine Zidane or Francesco Totti cannot be easily replaced. These players are often the most highly valued and the hardest to obtain.
Even though Bale is now injured and likely to only return for part of the pre-season he will still be the target of endless transfer speculation as the big clubs across Europe try to pry him from Daniel Levy and Harry Redknapp's hands. Harry has said numerous times Spurs won't be selling, but if an appropriate offer comes along Spurs should happily part with Bale and pocket the transfer fee.
Wingers, even inverted wingers like Cristiano Ronaldo, are much more replaceable. I hesitate to call them a dime-a-dozen, but that's pretty close to an accurate representation. Let's consider for a moment what Gareth Bale provides Tottenham Hotspur. First and foremost he provides pace. There are plenty of fast players, that's not a unique skill. Likewise he provides width to all our tactics because he, more often than not, stays out wide. Again, this isn't a unique skill. Bale also scores goals, 11 so far this season. On a team that gets so little production from its strikers this number is not to be scoffed at, but that goal total is easily compensated for if Jermain Defoe was playing at his usual level.
I know what you're thinking. "But Bale is special! He's Welsh Jesus! He's the best left winger in the world! Right backs quake in fear when they see him coming!" To that I would say that you just need to calm down. Yes, Bale is very good and he does a great deal for the club, but he's not the second coming.
Let's return to baseball. Your team has a first basemen who hit 25 home runs last year. He plays pretty good defense and seems to be a good guy. He's irreplaceable for your team or so you think. In actuality, 13 first basemen hit at least 25 home runs last year. Making you first basemen only marginally above league average in that category. Still think he's irreplaceable?
Back to Gareth Bale, sure he won the award for PFA Player of the Year. Yes he's been really good for the last 16 months, but that doesn't mean he can't be easily replaced. Yes, watching Tottenham's most recent match against Manchester City, in which we were without Bale, was painful, but Luka Modric was playing in a different role that Bale does.
The European football scene is ripe with talented young wingers. Diego Perotti of Sevilla, Marko Marin of Werder Bremen, Schalke's Lewis Holtby, and Almeria's Pablo Piatti, are just the ones that Spurs have been linked with so far. More realistic targets like Wolverhampton's Matt Jarvis and Wigan's Charles N'Zogbia could be had for much cheaper and could more than likely do the same job as Bale.
The thing for all of us to remember is that no matter how good Bale, or any player is, they are almost always replaceable. Especially a player who is as injury-prone as Gareth Bale seems to be. If someone comes calling for Gareth this summer with a big money offer Spurs would be wise to accept it.