After infamously going 24 matches in a Spurs shirt without a win, Gareth Bale has become phenomenal to a degree that not even his most devoted fans could have ever imagined. He's taken his game to a whole new level this year and it's made him arguably the best player in England. So much so that journalists have labeled Tottenham a one-man team.
Yawn. What does that even mean? He scores a lot of our goals? Big deal. Gareth Bale's scored 32% of Spurs' league goals this season. That sounds like a lot. But surprise! Seven other teams have a player who have scored as many or more of their team's goals. Half the teams in the league have one player who's scored at least 30% their goals. Leo Messi's scored a whopping 46% of Barcelona's, making a side many refer to as the greatest in history the biggest one man team of them all.
It's clear that this whole concept of a one-man team is nonsense, but it's equally clear that Bale shoulders a lot of attacking, and more importantly, goal-scoring responsibility for Spurs.
So what does this mean in practical terms? AVB is a manager notorious for implementing a meticulously crafted system. How does having a match winner affect his carefully laid plans? What does it mean to have a player whose mere presence on the pitch forces every tactical decision in the match to revolve around him?
Every time Spurs take the pitch, it's obvious that Gareth Bale is the most important player on the team. In it's essence, the strategy of late has been "Get the ball to Bale." But so what? It makes perfect sense to set your team up to maximize the strengths of your best player. And that's exactly what Spurs have done.
Last year Gareth Bale managed 10 league assists. This year? One. That doesn't mean he's lost his creative mojo. It means his role in the team has changed. A team is essentially one giant creative process designed to move a ball to someone in a position to score goals. Where before he was a key part of that process, whipping crosses in for other players to get on the end of, now he's its focal point.
And that's ok. Because he's our best player.
Every other team who has a guy scoring 30% or more of their goals escapes scrutiny for doing the exact same thing. Suarez, Michu, Benteke, RVP. Every single one of those teams tries to find those players in dangerous positions on the pitch as often as possible. So why does the world seem fascinated by Gareth Bale's role at Spurs?
Is it because he's not a striker? If a team has 10 guys working their asses off to get the ball to Darren Bent inside the box to slot home, nobody thinks twice about it. That's what strikers are there for. But suddenly some winger is scoring all the goals and it's a sign that Spurs are broken and over-reliant on one player. (Just like Fergie showed what a broken and desperate United side he had when he let Ronaldo score so many goals despite having all those strikers on his team.)
And most teams approach games against us with the mentality of "Stop Gareth Bale, stop Tottenham Hotspur." We've seen many matches where opposition managers have doubled up on Bale to try and nullify his threat, to varying effect. Against Newcastle, Pardew had Jonas track him closely and double up on him down the flank. Bale responded by drifting inwards, and he found the space on the break to take over the game. Against Manchester United at White Hart Lane, Fergie tried using Phil Jones as a defensive midfielder to drift wide and help cover the Welshman. That time Bale was kept quiet, but as a result Aaron Lennon had the freedom to dominate from the other flank.
In both instances, the opposition was forced to adapt to Gareth Bale but whether they stopped him or not, Spurs still managed to get a result.
If teams manage the impossible and stop Gareth Bale, other players have picked up the slack. Lennon dominated United and set up Dempsey's equalizer. Dembele pulled a wonder strike out of his ass against Lyon. Siggy bundled home a scrappy equalizer on Monday night.
And if teams don't manage to stop Gareth Bale? Then he's more than welcome to score 100% of our goals the rest of the season if we keep winning.
Because it's about more than scoring goals. Take his winner against West Ham. It was an amazing goal, a one in a million goal-of-the-season kind of strike. And it took something special from Bale to make that happen. But it also took Carroll feeding him the ball and Sigurdsson and Adebayor dragging defenders out of his way for it to even be possible. Because we're not a one-man team. There are no one-man teams. We're a team working together in harmony to get a result, even if one man manages to score the goals and grab the headlines.