“One-Man Team” – It’s a condemnatory phrase, tossed around scathingly by affronted rivals seeking to devalue a team’s accomplishments. It implies inadequacy: a lack of depth and quality masked by the disproportionate contributions of a single player.
It is a label that Tottenham Hotspur have had to bear with all season, and yet here they find themselves, one drawn match away from a Champions League spot and their first avoidance of Saint Totteringham’s Day in over 16 years.
One man can start a revolution.
As an Arsenal fan, Gareth Bale to me is smallpox, Team Rocket and Saturday morning lectures all rolled into one hideously talented, despicably skilled bundle.
I use Gareth Bale as an affirmation of Arsenal’s dominance over Tottenham Hotspur; I point to him and blindly shout that if it wasn’t for the rocket-footed Welshman, Spurs would be lingering in mid-table limbo, that their success this season has been fundamentally centred around Bale and this is a cause in itself to dismiss Tottenham as pretenders, unworthy of serious consideration.
After all, recent history is easy to forget, when it’s convenient to do so. I conveniently neglect to mention that my beloved Gunners were in the exact same boat last year – worse off in fact, given that barring Robin van Persie’s 37 goals in all competitions, the Gunners’ top scorer last season was Theo Walcott with… er… 11 strikes.
I was affronted when Arsenal was referred to as a one-man team last year. “What about the assists!?” I cried, “Van Persie doesn’t do it all himself!” It’s easy to be affronted when it’s suggested that your team is inherently dependent on one player’s continued performance.
To a point it’s true; van Persie didn’t deliver Arsenal third place all by himself, just as Bale hasn’t made every tackle, save, interception and assist for Tottenham this year. But the importance of both players to their respective teams cannot be overstated. One-man teams they are and were, whether we like to admit it or not, and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever.
Because sometimes one player is all a team needs to push it to a new level.
Bale has played 43 matches in all competitions for Spurs this season, netting 25 goals. Tottenham have scored 87 collectively, which means Bale has scored just shy of 30% of Spurs’ goals, but his importance to the team transcends mere numbers.
The young Welshman has showcased a champion’s mentality: he has been the one to pick Spurs up by the scruff of the neck and drag them over the line when the North Londoners seemed determined to avoid victory at all costs. Against Norwich City, Newcastle United, West Brom, Southampton and Lyon, to name but a few, Bale has won Tottenham points by himself.
There have, of course, been other contributors – Jermaine Defoe has played well this season and his 15 goals in all competitions is reflective of this, while the efforts of Aaron Lennon, Jan Vertonghen and, recently, Emmanuel Adebayor, should not be underestimated – but it would take a brave man to argue that Spurs would be in the same position on the table if they had Stewart Downing starting in place of Bale.
Tottenham’s fortunes this season have been fundamentally focussed around the Welshman. The uproar and profligate Spurs performances when Bale sustained an ankle injury and missed two matches in mid-April is testimony to this, as is the manner of Bale’s comeback – inspiring a 3-1 comeback victory over Manchester City in what could prove to be a defining moment of the season.
It could indeed be argued that Tottenham have been too reliant on Bale’s talents, but then again, could the same argument not be made against any team? Would Manchester United have won the league as comfortably if Robin van Persie had elected to join Juventus?
Indeed, would van Persie have decided the title if he had elected to join Manchester City rather than their cross-town rivals? We’ll never know.
What is known is that with two games of the season remaining, Tottenham – the “one-man team” are one Arsenal slip-up away from the sweetest of victories.
It is likely that Spurs’ final placing in the Premier League will be a major factor in whether Bale decides to stay at White Hart Lane or ply his trade elsewhere among Europe’s elite.
If he continues to progress at this rate, Spurs may soon find themselves with one of the world’s best players on their hands, and the silver lining of being a one-man team is that if that One Man has faith in his manager’s vision, he can be the nucleus around which a great team is built.
As an individual, Bale is already terrifying: he has pace, technique, strength, stamina, and mental resilience. He has a big-game temperament. He has composure. He is a superstar.
And if results go Tottenham’s way, there is the potential for Bale to lead his club into a new era. If Spurs manage to seize a place in the top four, Andre Vilas-Boas will be faced with the luxury of building a team around one of the world’s deadliest goalscorers. As an Arsenal fan, the prospect is terrifying; objectively, it is intriguing.
Tottenham may be a one-man team now, but one man can provide the foundation for a legacy. Whether Bale can be to Tottenham what Thierry Henry was to Arsenal, what Eric Cantona was to Manchester United, what Lionel Messi is to Barcelona, will be heavily dependent on the outcome of the season.