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Bale threat hangs over England

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Phil McNulty | 23:00 UK time, Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The sounds of one famous Welsh export had only just drifted away when England's thoughts turned to the danger posed to their Euro 2012 aspirations by another.

"Motorcycle Emptiness" by The Manic Street Preachers was a musical choice laced with irony as the media room at England's Hertfordshire base awaited the arrival of Peter Crouch.

And when Crouch started to unpick the potential pitfalls as England prepare to enter the hostility and passion of Cardiff's Millennium Stadium against Wales on Saturday, he might have borrowed another phrase from Blackwood's finest - Know Your Enemy.

In this case the enemy is well-known and comes in the shape of his Tottenham team-mate Gareth Bale, Wales' best hope of breathing life into their Euro 2012 campaign and increasing the pressure on England coach Fabio Capello.

England coach Fabio Capello, normally a stranger to over-statement, led the chorus of praise for Bale after his stellar season by anointing him as "the number one player in the world today."


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Bale quietly confident ahead of England match

It was not a message lost on his England players as they trained their sights on the 21-year-old who has illuminated Spurs' Champions League campaign, especially in defeat and victory against the holders Inter Milan.

England will use the next 48 hours to assess how Wales might probe their weaknesses - and it does not need an assembly of the coaching world's finest minds to work out that Bale will be central to their discussions.

Capello will have noted how he tortured Inter's world-class right back Maicon, but may draw encouragement from the manner in which former England veteran Phil Neville coped with Bale on two occasions, performances that so impressed Spurs boss Harry Redknapp that he later attempted to buy Everton's captain.

Neville's cause was helped by the deployment of a defensive shield placed in front of him to close down Bale's space and Capello may consider using James Milner in a similar role on Saturday.

Crouch has observed Bale at the closest quarters this season - and admits he has plenty of personal as well as professional pride at stake on Saturday. He said: "I'm not quite up to date on Twitter but I will speak to him in the run up. As soon as we were drawn in the same group as Wales I was giving him a bit of stick.

"If we lose I'll be a beat sheepish because I've been giving him loads to be honest."

Bale's brilliance, particularly when set alongside the maverick Craig Bellamy and the returning Aaron Ramsey, is at the heart of a growing belief in Wales that they can make a statement about the new era under boss Gary Speed by upsetting the old enemy in Cardiff.

And when the joking stops, Crouch is acutely aware that stopping Bale will be at the heart of Capello's plan to leave the Principality with three points.

Speed is sure to use Bale to exploit the defensive vulnerability of England right-back Glen Johnson to get Capello's side on the back foot and Crouch makes no attempt to disguise the danger his White Hart Lane team-mate poses.

Crouch, who fears he may miss out on a starting place to Liverpool's new £35m striker Andy Carroll despite his outstanding record of 22 goals in 42 England appearances, said: "Their biggest threat is Bale. That's no secret. He's a top-class player and been on fire for the last two years. It's something we will be looking at.

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England squad is full of leaders - Milner

"We only assess opponents on Thursday and Friday, looking at videos, and I'm sure Gareth will be prominent in a lot of those videos. He's been top class. Sometimes he's unplayable.

"I think if we can stop him we can stop a lot of Wales' threat. The thing about him is his energy. He's got tremendous pace. He runs the whole length of the pitch with the ball then he runs the whole length back just as quickly. Then he's ready to do it again in a minute's time.

"It's his sheer energy. Sometimes you look at him and think 'how does he do that?' I get tired watching him. He's got fantastic ability and a great left foot as well."

Crouch has not been surprised by Bale's emergence after uncertain early days following his £10m move to Spurs from Southampton, saying: "I think even when he wasn't playing, when he wasn't quite getting the rub of the green with chances to play for Tottenham, we saw his quality in training.

"We all saw it coming because we saw for ourselves that he was a fantastic player. He's gone on to be an even better player then we thought in training. He's been top class for last two years, right up the with the best in the league, and he can only get better."

Crouch - now 14th in England's all-time list of goalscorers alongside Tommy Lawton - stopped short of joining Capello in placing Bale alongside the world's best, but recognises his rich potential.

He said: "Gareth's got some way to go to be Lionel Messi's standard. He sets the bar extremely high. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are out there on their own at the moment, with the sheer number of goals they've scored.

"Gareth is only young, developing, and in that position he's got to be up there with the top players in the world. He's done it in the Champions League. What he did to Inter Milan over two games showed people what he is capable of and what he will do in the future."

Crouch will hope this golden future does not include undermining England in Cardiff and giving Bale the last laugh over his club colleague and international adversary.


BLOG UPDATE...Sounds like England might be able to cut back on their videos of Gareth Bale.

Reports this morning suggest that he has been ruled out with a hamstring injury sustained in training on Wednesday, although on Twitter Gary Speed's right-hand man @raymondverheije says Funny to read about Gareth Bale injuring his hamstring in training yesterday.....as he did not train at all yesterday.


This follows his earlier Tweet stating @raymondverheije This morning there will be an official statement by Gary Speed about the situation with Gareth Bale. The incompetent amateurs struck again!

All will be revealed...although it certainly doesn't sound like optimistic news.


You can follow me at twitter.com/philmcnulty and join me on Facebook.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    it would be an absolute nightmare to lose to Wales. Good luck Johnson!

  • Comment number 2.

    bale bale bale bale, yawn! remind me who bale is again? ever thinking about being a proper journalist mcnulty?

  • Comment number 3.

    Johnson will be toast

  • Comment number 4.

    Kaufman - ever thought of posting a sensible comment?

  • Comment number 5.

    If we're going to attribute the phrase 'Know Your Enemy' to a band, it was Rage Against the Machine who used it first.

  • Comment number 6.

    I can't take Crounchy seriously ever since he admitted that if he wasn't a footballer he'd still be a virgin, what does that say about him? More importantly, what does it say about his missus?!

  • Comment number 7.

    And now let the wave after wave of negative comments begin as McNulty (doesn't deserve the name [The Wire]) once again writes a load of dogs rollocks.

  • Comment number 8.

    the solution is simple.. pick kyle walker

  • Comment number 9.

    Good article - hope England can stay positive (unlike some of the blog writers on here) and not get distracted by the trivialities. As for the press - please remember we're playing a match here and want to win- can we have some reporting on that please, instead of the gossip.

  • Comment number 10.

    Gareth Bale, the greatest ever sports man, in any sports or any era, hands down. He once scored a hat trick against a team who were already 4-0 up and stopped playing.... well that's about it. End of epic story.

  • Comment number 11.

    More accurately England are pace-less and vulnerable to pace on the counter as Germany exposed. It does not matter if that pace has a name.

    John Terry and Lampard in a 442 has shown neither at their best for Chelsea. Better as recently even with de facto 10 men (The way their front 3 are behaving they had 7 men when all 3 are on) for 65 minutes to have a midfield 3. If England correctly use 442 the Italian way OK but we use it as an attacking option in which case it leaves us vulnerable.

    Indeed not sure about uncapped guys but Lennon only pace I can think of.

  • Comment number 12.

    Bale = World Class....

    funny that, I heard there was this one British guy who got called world class because he had a good season and then disappeared the next season after signing a ridiculously huge new contract.

    Oh wait, that's every British player.

    When will the media in this country stop comparing British players to Messi. If anything, Bale is just a lesser C.Ronaldo - he is big strong and can run fast. He has no skill. He plays into space, which he got against Inter because they were 4-0 and didn't worry about defending. Take away the space - like Man United did - and Bale disappears. He is one-dimensional (two at a push) and once people realise that it quite easy to defend against him, he will stop being as effective.
    He is what people call a one-season wonder.

    Messi has 45 goals this season.
    C.Ronaldo has 37 goals this season.

    "World class" Bale has a whopping 11 goals.
    "No football brain" Walcott also has 11 goals.
    "Terrible season" Arshavin has 10 goals.

    Two very different tiers of player. Bale isn't even Wale's best chance of progression out of the group stage. That would be Aaron Ramsey who they will be looking to to run the midfield. At least you just about managed to fit his name in a blog that lauds over the fantastic Gareth Bale.

    I will admit that Bale is having a great season. But don't mix form and class.
    Bale's team, Tottenham Hotspurs, were out of both domestic cup competitions long ago and currently sitting outside the top4 in the Premiership - with Liverpool breathing down their necks. They may not even be in Europe next season. They have their glory tie with Real Madrid but lose that - more than likely - and they will be left in an almighty scrap to try and get back into the CL next year. If they don't then this season couldn't even be called a mild success.

    Where would that leave the fantastic Mr. Bale?

    If he leads Spurs to CL glory and Wales to European qualification then people should start to call him world class. Until then, he is just one of many players who happen to be having a good season so far, e.g. Nasri, Nani, Adam, VdV etc.

  • Comment number 13.

    Woops, forgot to mention England in all that Bale-centric rant.

    They will win comfortably because Wales are a mediocre side shown by their recent international results. They have a few decent players, but they also have abysmal tactics and so England should expect an easy win by a couple of goals. 3-1 maybe, including a Bale goal which furthers his claim of being the best thing since sliced bread.

  • Comment number 14.

    Bale is a wonderful, talented, speedy winger. To go to that extend as calling him the best player of the world now, takes the biscuit, though. Capelo may have said it to motivate his players in not being complacent. The No1 player in the world, though, is Messi and for No2, seek someone from Ronaldo, Xavi, Iniesta.

    Bale has proven he can be lethal if he's given space, especially against full backs who are not famous for their speed, but he can be taken care of. It's called "deny him the space".

    In any case, at Spurs, he has Crouch or Pavluychenko to cross the ball for. Also this balances out by having Lennon on the other wing. In the Wales team you know that their wingers are Bale - no offense.

    Of course there is Bellamy and Ramsey. Bellamy is playing for Cardiff and Ramsey is an understudy at Arsenal.

    The press will certainly try to talk up the game. It is a poor ressemble of boxing matches. But it isn't an epic encounter on the horizon. It is the first taste of Garry Speed of football management and it will be as a national team manager. His inexperience may show blatantly or the flow of the match may not be require for him to try and change the game. Wales though doesn't have the power to stop England and I'm afraid it might

  • Comment number 15.

    ....show convincingly :)

  • Comment number 16.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 17.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 18.

    Nasri_VCG_COYG,

    Pretty sure you're forgetting the number of assists he's had too, not just all about goals scored. Nice to see he's having such a good season that it can completely distract you from the blog content though. Plus I'm surprised you recognise any reaction to British talent, what with your general lack of it at arsenal.
    Couldn't agree with Mr.C more, bitter much?

  • Comment number 19.

    By the way, not condoning in any way him being called best player in the world, only agree that he's in brilliant form though.

  • Comment number 20.

    how is bale considered the best player in the world when he has spent half the season hurt and has only contributed little to where tottenham are in the table?!

  • Comment number 21.

    This seems like the best Wales squad for a while and their starting line-up should pose England some problems. James Collins seemed to confirm that Bellamy will play wide right and Bale wide left which means there will be pace and penetration on both flanks for the Welsh. Without Earnshaw, Morison is likely to start on his own up front and is playing well for Milwall this season. I like the look of Wales's central midfield though having the playmaking abilities of Aaron Ramsey combined with the dynamic Joe Ledley who is playing very well with Celtic just now, which should provide decent support to the attack. England could be in for a tough game.

  • Comment number 22.

    Bale one of the best in the world? Nonsense. Although i reckon Capello is fully aware of this.

    Bale has had two outstanding games where the defence went awol. His is quick and has got a great left foot but if you mark him tight like Neville for Everton or raphael did for United he goes long periods without a kick. Johnson has the pace to cope with him.
    In short, if England don't win they should see it as a big upset.

  • Comment number 23.

    With the risk of suffering some of the criticism by proxy, I have to agree with some of the points made by Nasri_VCC_COYG, although not the rant in which he formed his expressions.

    Bale is extremely good, but he would not fall in the same bracket as Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi or Iniesta. He probably would fall into the tier bellow of Nasri, VDV et al, which is hardly a criticism.

    He could also potentially make that jump in the future, so I don’t think these comments are actually criticisms, they are a tribute to the kid for being mentioned among the elite.

  • Comment number 24.

    Personally I think the main threat hanging over England is Capello, or more specifically our lack of tactical direction under Capello. I've not been at all convinced by him since the early stages of the last World Cup qualifying campaign. His frankly bewildering faith in the sluggish and wasteful Gareth Barry, the rather absurd continual calling-up of Shaun Wright-Phillips (which thankfully now seems to have stopped), and his insistence on playing Steven Gerrard out of position on most occasions are but three his many failings. The shambolic handling of the England captaincy is another more recent example of bad man-management and forward planning.

    I worry when I hear Capello refer to Bale as "the number one player in the world today." Really? Seriously? Thank goodness we aren't playing Argentina or Spain this weekend is all I can say to that!

    As for Wales; they don't have the quality to beat England, but they really don't need it, as with Capello in charge we are quite capable of tactically beating ourselves.

  • Comment number 25.

    Wow the best player in world Gareth Bale? Are you serious Capello? lol This coaching job in England has made him a bit soft in the head. He needs to get out more and check out other leagues and pick up some talent for the English national team there... Oh yeah that's right, there is no good English talent abroad. Seriously though, Gareth Bale is fast and can cause some problems, but he is certainly not a one man wrecking crew. He can be stopped if you simply stand in front of him turned sideways giving yourself some room, and don't reach. He has no real skill outside running fast in a straight line (A common theme in British football) so If you keep him from doing that... Mission accomplished, you'll have a very nonthreatening, rather ordinary Gareth Bale.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    This is all well and good but Bale is not even playing... He's injured.

  • Comment number 28.

    i really think england shouldn't focus only on Bale. it could be their undoing.
    We should play our best side with the best possible players playing in their favboured positions.
    we shouldn't forget that they have craig bellamy, he has a seemingly unlimited amount of energy and can really run our centre backs ragged.

    Having said that, england should have enough quality t put this wales side away.

  • Comment number 29.

    England will definitely be beaten and Phil today you have forgotten the 'World Class' English players you always praised and seen there is someone who can cause threat to England's Euro bid??

    You have always written about world class defense world class strikers world class midfielders blablabla so the world class will neutralize bale. The way you often world class a mediocre team which has shamefully failed to show anything on the international stage for its name some times is amazing!!!

  • Comment number 30.

    good blog phil, but what happened to the garbled phraseology and mixed metaphors that used to delight us so much? in the old days bale would have been "a cheetah wearing usain bolt's underwear shot from a gannon sorry cannon fired by a greased piglet" or some such like mcnugget of genius

  • Comment number 31.

    phil do you think there's any chance of mourinho taking over from jim gannon at port vale now the position is vacant praise the lord?

  • Comment number 32.

    i agree with many of the posters on here who obviously missed their vocation working as town planners and accountants, because bale is obviously very easy to handle why oh why cant professional coaches see that best way to deal with the welsh menace is to double up on him, one to poke fun at his simian looks whilst bending down behind him while the other pushes him over and laughs

  • Comment number 33.

    Bale is a good player and is improving all the time. Glad he is not English, otherwise we would be seeing a blog like this one every week. Phil, I suspect we will see one on Rooney and Wilshere before Saturday? Or maybe after the game with England winning 2-0? 'World class' Rooney scores after an assist from 'better than Xavi' Wilshere'.

  • Comment number 34.

    OK, enough about Bale,who has, in all honesty, had a good season. Can't argue with that. But world class ? Is he Messi, Ronaldo etc ? No, not yet.

    As far as the game goes, after an early onrush of pressure from Wales, I expect us to dominate and win quite comfortably.

  • Comment number 35.

    The most annoying thing is this main quote for this "Bale is best in world" was taken from a partial quote from another report which took Capello out of context.

    He was referring to Bale being the best player in his position, which even as a Spurs fan I find a stretch of the imagination.

    Its annoying when as you know Mr McNulty would know the response for the readers and you would expect him to check the source better. But I have a feeling he would prefer the hysterical hyperbolic response over a smaller civilized discussion.

    Maybe BBC awards pay rises for number of blog responses? This ones on me, Phil

  • Comment number 36.

    Tactically, it will be interesting to see if Capello lines up with attacking width in Lennon & Young, or tries to combat the wingplay of Bale by deploying Millner as defensive cover for Johnson.

    I'd expect Young to play regardless because i'd have more confidence in Cole cleaning up attacks on the left, than Johnson on the right.

  • Comment number 37.

    But world class ? Is he Messi, Ronaldo etc ? No, not yet.

    -----------------------------------

    No, those two players are used as strikers of sorts in their teams. Messi spearheads the Barcelona attack while Ronaldo plays high up the pitch off the main striker (in a Van de Vaart way).

    Bale is a midfielder who plays far out on the left, and his job is to cross the ball. He comes in occassionally and scores just because he can, it isn't his role.

    He is described as world class because he has so far made the 'world class' right backs of the world look like school children. He didn't just get the better of Maicon at Inter, he made Maicon look amateurish. I can't think of many other players who can make a player of that quality look so ordinary, and that is the story of this season and the last. The only exception comes when players double, or triple up on him, who have clearly been working on orders designed to specifically nullify his threat (like Neville at Everton).

    So before you staticians start pulling out irrelevant 'how many goals they've scored' stats, think about what the player does and what their role is for the team.

  • Comment number 38.

    When are journalists gonna stop sucking Bale of seriously? It's getting quite ridiculous and as some have mentioned before this 'world class' tag is getting over used. 2 stand out games against slow italian oppositions who generally adopt a defensive approach to their game and he's world class? No sour grapes from an Arsenal fan, i'd have him but why keep applying all this pressure on players, you're doing it to Wilshere and then you wonder why they crack later on.

  • Comment number 39.

    I really can't see Wales getting any sort of result out of this game.

    For all the plaudits, rightly or wrongly, that players like Bale, Ledley and Ramsey receive, Wales have managed to score just once in 3 EC games whilst shipping 6 at the other end, including a thrashing at Switzerland's hands (or feet, perhaps). Factor in a recent hiding in Ireland, too, and things look pretty bleak for the Welsh. Even if Wales manage to "use" the home advantage and the undoubtedly strong, vocal support and score, I cannot possibly imagine that England will fail to capitalise on the weaknesses in Wales' defence.

    Whilst playing for a second-tier team does not necessarily indicate absolute ability, it could be taken as a fairly good indicator and the fact is that Wales only have a few Premiership (or other top European league) players with several key position players coming out of the Championship. Swansea and Cardiff may be knocking on the door of the Premiership but they just don't play against high enough quality opposition, week in and week out, to help Wales perform at the highest international level.

    Warming to my theme a little bit, I have seen nothing of Gary Speed in the world of football management to make me think that he can grasp the necessary tactical and strategic tricks to upset England. Domestic management is clearly different from international management (is that not so, Mr Capello?) but here is another area that Wales may well be found wanting.

    If England fail to win by at least 2 goals it isn't just Capello who should consider his position, it should be the entire matchday team.

  • Comment number 40.

    o, those two players are used as strikers of sorts in their teams. Messi spearheads the Barcelona attack while Ronaldo plays high up the pitch off the main striker (in a Van de Vaart way).

    Bale is a midfielder who plays far out on the left, and his job is to cross the ball. He comes in occassionally and scores just because he can, it isn't his role.

    He is described as world class because he has so far made the 'world class' right backs of the world look like school children. He didn't just get the better of Maicon at Inter, he made Maicon look amateurish. I can't think of many other players who can make a player of that quality look so ordinary, and that is the story of this season and the last. The only exception comes when players double, or triple up on him, who have clearly been working on orders designed to specifically nullify his threat (like Neville at Everton).

    So before you staticians start pulling out irrelevant 'how many goals they've scored' stats, think about what the player does and what their role is for the team.

    ---------------

    I rate Ramos and Alves as better right backs in the game actually. Alves is the more attacking rb but baras attacking approach allow him to do both so when he does defend its even harder. Ramos of course won the world cup with spain so thats a statement their. Maicons overates imo

  • Comment number 41.

    Anybody else read "the England squad is full of leaders" as "the England squad are full of self centred, prima donnas"?

    Maybe the fact that the squad is full of leaders is one of the negative things about the current England side.

    As for Bale, we've heard it all before when Giggs was in his prime - lets not forget this is a very sub-standard Wales side at present. England have absolutely no excuses if they fail to pick up what should be an easy three points.

    That said, as a neutral, I hope I'm wrong as it'd be nice to see an upset.

  • Comment number 42.

    I can't take Crounchy (sic) seriously ever since he admitted that if he wasn't a footballer he'd still be a virgin, what does that say about him?
    -----------------------------------------------------------

    It says he has a sense of humour; virtually no ego; that he isn’t vain and doesn't take himself too seriously. All of which I find refreshing in a modern footballer. On the other hand your comment says about you that you don’t have a sense of humour and that you do take yourself too seriously.

    On topic though; Bale's a good player - very good - but in the not too distant past I can remember another very good left winger playing for Wales and at Bale’s age he played alongside guys like Mark Hughes, Dean Saunders and Ian Rush - and Wales were still rubbish.

    It's a team game and one or two good players don't make a good team. If we really are worried about playing a rubbish team that has one good player in it what the hell are we going to do against good teams packed with good players? Upsets happen obviously, but if we don’t win this one we might as well pack it in.

  • Comment number 43.

    Ewwwwwwww, new keyboard required at McNulty's desk please BBC

  • Comment number 44.

    As a man brought up in the Heart of Mid Wales, I will be at the Stadium cheering on the underdogs (the ones in red) and hopefully we see a big upset (more hoping for a England own goal by a John Terry mistake, where he scores the own goal himself). To be fair, with the England side likely to be fielded, as we all pretty much know and could bet heavily on who will actually be in the starting line-up, I could see Wales causing problems and if Bale is fit and is on form, along with Ledley, Ramsey, Bellamy etc also playing as well as they are for Club, then we could see a 1-0 or 2-1 win for the mighty Reds.

    But, reality we pretty much know the side who will be the victors. (sadly)

    With regards to Bale being the best player in the World? In what context does this mean? Overall best player? No. Best Lefty?? Again, no, but his club form has been pretty decent to be considered one OF currently.
    The thing is, comparing Defender Bale to Forwards Messi/C.Ronaldo is unfair judgement, might as well compare Joe Hart to David Villa, different positions.

    Nothing taken away from Bales good form of late with Spurs in both EPL and CL, but hes one of the top players in the world at the moment, but there are side a good few ahead of him. (based on this seasons form)

    Com'on Reds!!

  • Comment number 45.

    well this blogs redundant now......bales injured haha

  • Comment number 46.

    ha ha - bale's out!

    phil will have to blog on john terry again

  • Comment number 47.

    Poor old Phil, overtaken by events again. I do hope you don't have an allergy to eggs, Phil - they're on your face so often!

  • Comment number 48.

    I guess England won't lose 345,000-0 now Bale is injured, lucky them.

  • Comment number 49.

    41. At 07:40am on 24th Mar 2011, SCL wrote:
    Anybody else read "the England squad is full of leaders" as "the England squad are full of self centred, prima donnas"?

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    I agree totally. What we need is a team who'll actually play for each other and get the job done, rather than bigging themselves up and trying to get European teams to take notice of them.

    I know Bale's out now, but I also wish that the media would realise that he is just one player. He might be a pretty good one, but he is just one man in a team of eleven of them. It takes a whole team to win a team sport.

  • Comment number 50.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 51.

    It doesn't matter that Bale is out wales have got .........er ....................em ........well surely they have a zoo where they can get a look alike

  • Comment number 52.

    Terry. Captain. Says it all. Capello: what a guy!

 

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