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Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Irrepressible Bale making mockery of FIFA shortlist


LONDON — Gareth Bale is not among the 23 best players in the world. He is not included on the shortlist for FIFA's Ballon D'Or, which will come as a surprise to those who saw the Tottenham winger destroy Inter Milan twice in the Champions League.

Christopher Davies

Sunderland substitute Asamoah Gyan was among the elite 23 as was Bayern Munich's Miroslav Klose. Both made a positive impression at the World Cup finals but have struggled at club level this year, so obviously it's what you do in three weeks in a FIFA competition rather than the rest of 2010 that matters.

Bale has played 46 matches for Spurs and Wales this year at a consistently outstanding level, but in FIFA's eyes he was erased from the reckoning because his country did not qualify for the World Cup. Maicon, the Inter and Brazil right-back who was made to look like a player desperate to hear the final whistle after chasing Bale for 180 minutes, is in the top 23 though.

"It must have been tough for him, I don't think he's ever suffered like that before," said Spurs manager Harry Redknapp with more pride for Bale than sympathy for Maicon. The bad news for the Brazilian is that the sides could meet for a third time in the knockout stages. Maicon probably recognizes Bale only by the back of his opponent's head.

The jury that will vote the winner of the FIFA award consists of a combination of journalists, national team coaches and captains. The list from which the winners will be chosen was drawn up by "football experts" from FIFA's Football Committee, the Technical and Development Committee and France Football correspondents.

Quite why the shortlist was announced on Oct. 26, 10 weeks before the winner is unveiled, is unknown but on current form only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi would seriously rival Bale as the world's best player. Except in the eyes of world football's governing body.

Bale, 21, was signed from Southampton by then-Spurs manager Martin Jol for a fee rising to £10 million in May 2007. The Wales international had an ignominious start to his career at White Hart Lane, playing a record 24 Premier League games over a period of just over two years without being on the winning side. This time last season Bale struggled to hold down a first-team place but since January he has been a revelation, initially as a left-back but mainly wide left in midfield.

His sensational performances against Inter have been a double-edged sword for Spurs. While Bale's inspirational qualities have been the catalyst for Spurs closing in on a place in the Champions League last 16, inevitably Europe's elite have sat up and taken notice, led by Inter, the recipients of the one-man wrecking crew. I cannot recall a better individual display by a Premier League player in the history of the Champions League than Bale's in last Tuesday's 3-1 defeat of Inter when the white tornado assisted on two goals and Maicon's demise.

Corriere Dello Sport said that Bale would now be even more of a target for Inter's owner Massimo Moratti and that he was the ideal player as he "shunned pints of lager, discos and showgirls."

The paper added: "He is the sort of player you would marry your daughter off to. It will cost 35 million euro but it can only be a couple of months before the bank draft is signed and it's bye bye London."

If Spurs are to seriously challenge Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal they must keep Bale who has three years to run on his current contract. Redknapp, who described Bale as "a low maintenance boy, easy to manage," maintains that Spurs "are not a selling club" — by that he means players they do not want to sell. But Europe's best players are, with a few exceptions, with the traditional heavyweights such as Inter. Redknapp also knows Bale will be on United's radar as a long-term successor to Ryan Giggs.

Bale said he is happy to stay but cynics would say he would, wouldn't he? When one or two of Europe's top guns come calling next summer, as they will, Bale's happiness and Spurs' resolve will be severely tested.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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