Almost exactly a year ago Robin van Persie accepted the Footballer of the Year award and declared, with a mournful look in his eye, he would “always be a Gunner” before promptly signing for Manchester United.
But hope is growing at Tottenham that latest recipient Gareth Bale will break the trend and remain at White Hart Lane for at least another season, regardless of whether they finish in the top four.
Bale, who has scored 30 goals already for club and country this campaign as fifth-placed Tottenham head for a must-win game at Stoke tomorrow, is being courted by some of the biggest clubs in the world, ranging from Real Madrid to PSG and, of course, United. But suggestions that a failure to clinch Champions League football — which looks a distinct possibility with only two matches to go — would prompt another swift departure from north London to join van Persie at Old Trafford or Luka Modric at the Bernabeu — are slowly starting to lose credence.
Bale is very much a family man — he took both his father and mother to the Footballer of the Year Awards dinner on Thursday — and the latest rumours circulating around White Hart Lane are that father Frank in particular is keen for his son to remain at Tottenham a little longer.
“My dad has been the biggest influence on my career,” Bale said. “When I was a kid I used to pester him every day to kick the ball with me and he always did, even when he had just come home and was tired. And he’s been with me every step of the way since my very first game. He’s pretty much dedicated his life to taking me to games and watching me play, which he still does. Everything I do in football is for my dad and my mum.”
Against that background a move abroad to Real or Barca may well seem less likely at this stage in Bale’s career; especially as, at the age of 23, he recently became a father — his daughter Alba is not yet seven months old and the family appear settled in London.
“It’s been life-changing of course,” admitted Bale. “You get a different look on life. My life is changing fast at the minute, but it’s all great. I’m enjoying my football and enjoying my life and that’s the reason I’m playing so well I think.”
What must make Tottenham supporters nervous is that Arsenal fans were in a similar position last May as they watched van Persie collect his Footballer of the Year trophy and analysed every quote from the Dutchman for clues about his future.
But Bale is at a completely different stage of his career to van Persie and his words of praise for Tottenham and for life in London appear more genuine — and more reliable.
“The team has been fantastic this season and we have played some very good stuff, it is always easier to play in a really good team,” he said when analysing Tottenham’s season. “And the manager has been fantastic for me too, playing me in different positions where I am able to find the space and actually show my stuff.
“You can see the club is going forward too. When I first came here six years ago they showed me the plans for the club and showed me what they wanted to do — and there’s been a progression ever since. I hope that continues and I hope we get Champions League football because that’s what we all want and that’s our target for the season.
“Everyone at Tottenham still believes we can do it; we know it is not in our hands, but there are a lot of funny things which can happen in football and there are two games to go. If we win both our games, at Stoke and then home to Sunderland, we give ourselves the best chance. I can see other teams dropping points.”
No-one at the Footballer of the Year awards dinner wanted to ask Bale directly if he would be leaving Spurs this summer; it just wasn’t the time or the place and you could feel the tension as hundreds of football journalists battled to hold their tongues. But when asked to express his appreciation for life at White Hart Lane, Bale was happy to provide one last hint.
“The next step is to get Champions League football on a consistent basis and we are all working towards that,” he said.
“It’s been very good for me this year moving into a free role. We’ve done a lot of training on tactical work which has helped the team and individual players too. It’s a great environment to work in and I’ve really enjoyed it.”
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