Before I get to the point of this post, which is, unsurprisingly, about replacing Gareth Bale, it is worth mentioning that Gareth Bale has not actually left yet, and therefore doesn't really need replacing. Normally I would wait until news actually broke before writing this, but I probably won't be able to wait any longer. Therefore, I will have to make some assumptions about how the situation will play out:
1. Gareth Bale will move to Real Madrid for a lot of money. Otherwise replacing him would be counter-intuitive.
2. Erik Lamela will join Spurs. I know this qualifies as "moving," but it is the best name thrown out there.
3. Willian won't. Now I am definitely moving. This would be awesome in my opinion, I'll explain why later.
4. I haven't watched enough soccer for you to take my opinion seriously. This is accurate. I have seen Lamela play exactly zero times, and Willian once. This doesn't mean I'm not going to state my opinions, just that you should take them with mountains of salt.
So, now that that's out of the way, Bale. He's really, really good. I don't think this can be overstated. He is the mythical Bill Simmons $2 bill, a franchise changing star who brings the team to a certain level all by himself. One of Simmons' main theories is that you should never give up a $2 bill for $2 in quarters, or, in Spurs case, a bunch of $30 million rated players. Now, that theory is for basketball, where it is much more difficult to lose your best player, but I like the theory. If at all possible, hold onto guys like Bale.
Now, what of the event where it isn't possible? Say that Bale has quietly told Levy that he wishes to leave, and Madrid offers, to continue the analogy, $3? Then Bale is sold, and he needs replacing.
My main point is that it cannot be done. We went through this last summer with Modric. There is no way to spend on one player who can do the job that Bale can do, and we shouldn't try. I am of the opinion that Lamela would be trying. Correct me if I am wrong, but the assessment of Lamela that I get is of a goal scoring winger, with essentially the same style as Bale, who could potentially be that same player as Bale. I'm not a huge fan of this; as Lennon's Eyebrow said, Lamela is the magic box. He could be anything, even Gareth Bale! Getting Lamela, with no other purchases, would seem like forcing him into the exact same role as Bale.
This isn't so much an issue with Lamela, it's an issue with Bale. Gareth Bale's role with Tottenham last year was the largest in the league, with only Robin van Persie rivaling him. Trusting that to a player who notably is not Gareth Bale would be a mistake to me; there are only about three wingers on the planet who can do that. Lamela may become one of them, but he isn't now.
Which is why upgrading the team in other areas is a must. "But Drew," you say, "we already bought Paulinho and Soldado! Isn't that enough?" Possibly. It's a fair point if you want to believe that those constitute upgrades, then fine, just take Lamela and roll with it. It's fine, but I don't think this is the mindset we want to have. I see those as huge deficiencies that needed addressing, Bale or no Bale. Well, they are addressed, now deal with Bale.
Assuming Bale is sold, we would need to upgrade the wings. Why? Because that would be our biggest weakness, so getting talent there would offer the most significant upgrade per dollar spent. Lennon-Townsend certainly isn't bad, and Andros has a bit of that magic box feel to him doesn't he? But that is by far the worst wing combination of any team competing for the top four, and therefore should be be seen as a deficiency, not an asset. So, how to best upgrade the wings? I think it requires two signings. One option is Willian. This would probably be the best, in my personal opinion, because he isn't Bale and never will be. He can't be considered Bale's replacement, and should fit in with just about any other signing. Whether it works or not is down to Villas Boas, and whether he could divide the offense amongst the talent that he has without losing production. I'll tentatively say that he can. The key would be another signing.
Having said that, screw Chelsea.
The other option is Lamela. I'd be in favor of this, surprisingly enough. The key would be to have other ways to take him out of a Bale role; to separate him form the tag of Bale Replacement, a task that many managers have failed at in the past. Again, that would be down to another player taking a larger role.
Of course, that all hinges on making one new signing to drastically upgrade the team: buying a right back.
I can see you calling me a Walker hater already. I accept that. But I ask you to hear me out. Kyle Walker is not too weak defensively to be a right back. He is not our weakest piece. In fact, Kyle Walker is the closest thing possible to a Bale replacement.
Now, that's kind of a huge deal. What I am saying is that the best way to improve the production of our offense is to increase the role of it's best players. As of right now, that means Kyle Walker.
Hear me out on this. Right now, Walker is fairly restricted to the right wing, where he is forced to either pass in, pass to Lennon, or cross. His attacks on the box don't often result in shots on goal from Walker himself, which I think isn't a problem as the team is currently constructed. However, in not allowing those shots (and crosses and attacks), you are taking away a weapon which could be very effective. Walker has the best shot on the team (not including Bale and potentially Rose), and as a right back that skill can only be used situationally. That's fine when we are getting shots on target from elsewhere, and Walker's speed can be transitioned to defense.
That's also what we thought when Bale was a left back. Turns out that emphasizing the best parts of his game worked well. Obviously Walker is not Bale, but I tend to like the idea. Focusing on Walker as a runner, shooter, and crosser should help absorb many of the possessions that losing Bale would entail. As an added bonus, he plays basically the same style as Bale, so taking on extra possessions wouldn't necessarily require a shift in tactics. Overall, there is still a large hole to be filled, which is why the left winger would be upgraded as well, and there is the not small matter of actually buying a right back. It's really just a theory, but one that I think is well worth considering. Lamela-Walker does a great deal of what Bale does, without forcing either into Bale's role permanently. Worst case scenario, we have two magic boxes. I want magic boxes.
Personally I'd prefer Willian there (he fits in so well with Soldado and the new midfield), but Lamela works very well and has an extremely high ceiling. He wouldn't have to be Bale in this case too, which is a major plus to me. As an added bonus, fullbacks tend to be much less expensive than wingers of the same status.
I am aware, as well, that the argument that I just made against Lamela being the first option fits in with Walker as well. He'd have to take up a very similar role to Bale without actually being Bale, which is definitely an issue. I like it a little more so because Walker is already on the team, plus he doesn't necessarily have to do what Bale does. Things like that happen when you do something which hasn't been tried before. However, as a tricky way of upgrading the squad, I think this works. If Lamela and Walker are both half of Bale, and their styles are very similar to Bale, then you get one Bale. Voila! (Nevermind that Lennon's production is suddenly gone too. This is tricky.)
One thing that I should mention is that I think Walker could be a very, very good right winger. Damn near elite. He has many of the raw skills that Bale has, namely pure speed, size, a rocket right foot, and high-end crossing ability. You just aren't seeing the end result yet, in a sense making him the opposite of Lamela. In Lamela's case, his staggeringly good results at a young age suggest talent that could continue to mature into great. However, his style is essentially locked in, and need not change over the course of a career. Walker is different in that I see the underlying skills there, and the trick is to mold them into the type of player we need. Walker is a magic box too, but one where you should be able to guide the outcome towards the exact type of player that you need. He is a type of player that managers would kill for a chance at, a young winger with unpolished skill that matches the best. He is, essentially, a long term replacement. Since there is no direct way to replace Bale, indirectly trying may just work. Last time, we got Bale.