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Gareth Bale: The World's Best Winger?

by Al 3. February 2012 06:32

Tottenham's Gareth Bale is the newest name on the Icons roster. And after our first exclusive signing session with the 22-year-old Welshman last week in London, we now stock a fantastic range of his signed products. With his electric performances continuing to raise his profile in world football, the reigning PFA Player of the Year is enjoying another sensational season with Spurs. In such devastating form, can the man recently valued at £150million make fair claim to being the world's best winger?

Gareth Bale’s transformation from Tottenham’s not-so-lucky charm to one of the most coveted players in the world has been dazzling. After signing for Spurs from Southampton for an initial fee of £5m in 2007, he featured in a record 24 Premier League games without winning. Fast forward to 2012, however, and the Bale jinx already seems a distant memory.

Manchester City are among a host of clubs to have been linked with a move for Bale, and although the £150million price tag placed on his shoulders by Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is as much a deterrent for hovering suitors as it is a valuation, he certainly merits a mention among the world’s best. The Welshman has a future at the very top of the game, and Spurs are determined to ensure it is staged at White Hart Lane.

Bursting with pace, power and technique - as traditional wingers go - Bale's artillery is second to none in modern football. Real Madrid's Ángel di María runs him close in many departments, but, crucially, Bale carries a far greater goal threat than the Argentinian. Today, Bale's outstanding ability is plain to see, but three years ago few could have predicted such a meteoric rise.

After tasting victory in the Premier League for the first time against Burnley in September 2009, Bale only began to fulfil his abundant potential in the latter stages of that campaign, when he was named Premier League Player of the Month for April as Spurs secured 4th place Champions League qualification. Having made a name for himself in England, however, it was the following season in Spurs' debut Champion League campaign that he was propelled onto the world stage.

Bale’s magnificent performances on the left flank against reigning European champions Inter Milan encapsulated all that is so effective about his game. His phenomenal athleticism and ferocious finishing landed him a stunning hat-trick at the San Siro and two assists back at White Hart Lane. After a nightmarish 180 minutes with a rampaging Bale, the previously burgeoning reputation of Inter right-back Maicon was reduced to tatters. It was a chastening experience from which the Brazilian has never properly recovered. “Everyone is scared of [Bale],” said his Spurs teammate Rafael van der Vaart at the time. “Maicon is one of the best defenders in the world, and he’s killed him.”

Spurs manager Harry Redknapp’s decision to move Bale from left-back to a more advanced role has proved the making of him. And his positional development has continued in recent months as he has regularly switched wings, and even operated centrally behind the striker. With licence to roam, Bale has thrived. After his brace against Wigan on Tuesday, he already has 10 Premier League goals to his name this season, more than any other midfielder in the division. A total return of 10 goals and eight assists is testament to his outstanding contribution to Spurs’ unfancied title challenge. A player of Bale’s calibre requires exposure to Champions League football, and Spurs fans can delight in the fact that they are on course to provide it next season.

At international level, Bale has scored three goals in his last three appearances for a resurgent Wales. He has also made public his desire to feature for Team GB at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Bale is central to a bright, young Wales squad looking to honour Gary Speed’s legacy under the guidance of the newly-installed Chris Coleman. After making his international debut at the age of 16 and 315 days, Bale’s name has already gone down in Wales’ history as their youngest ever player. As a nation, they have only qualified for a major tournament once, in 1958, but with a fit and firing Gareth Bale, the next decade could represent the best opportunity they ever get to replicate that feat.

Argentinian? Spanish? Dutch? No; the world's best winger is a Welshman.

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Icons Legend of the Week #9: Ian Rush

by Al 6. September 2011 06:38

With an incredible 346 goals in 660 appearances, Ian Rush's achievements as a Liverpool striker may well never be matched. A predatory finisher and tireless worker with an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, no man has sparked delirium at Anfield with quite the same regularity as Icons Legend of the Week #9.

With a penchant for scoring crucial goals, Rush spearheaded the Liverpool side that dominated the game during the 1980s. Over the course of 15 seasons at Anfield, Liverpool's all-time record goalscorer won five league titles, five League Cups and three FA Cups, not to mention the greatest club accolade of all, the European Cup. His languid and ungainly demeanor did not initially inspire confidence at Liverpool, but when he made his scoring breakthrough in 1981 he soon proved that looks can be deceptive. Forming a lethal strike partnership with fellow Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish (above, left), Rush netted 30 times in 49 appearances during the 1981/82 season - his first as a first-team regular - propelling the Reds to a league and cup double.

1982/83 was another double-winning campaign for Liverpool, but it was the following season that would be remembered as Rush's zenith. Liverpool completed a historic treble that season when they famously defeated AS Roma 4-2 on penalties in the European Cup final, with Rush among Liverpool's successful penalty-takers. With a remarkable total of 47 goals in 65 games, the Welshman scooped the European Golden Boot and PFA Player of the Year award. In only his fourth season on Merseyside, Rush's name was already carved into Liverpool folklore.

But how different his story could have been. Not long after becoming Britain's most expensive teenager when he was signed from Chester City for £300,000 in 1980, Rush - frustrated with a lack of first-team opportunities - confronted Liverpool manager Bob Paisley with a transfer request. Paisley's refusal to sanction the Welshman's proposed move to Crystal Palace would prove one of the best decisions he ever made.

More success followed, and in 1986 Rush fired the Reds to yet another double which included his first FA Cup win, a 3-1 triumph over Merseyside rivals Everton which saw him put in a goal scoring, man-of-the-match performance. His emphatic scoring record was not going unnoticed across the continent and in July 1986, with a host of top European clubs hovering, Rush signed for Italian giants Juventus for a British record £3m. He spent the first year of his Juventus contract on loan with Liverpool before moving to Italy in 1987. Rush's season in Turin was a difficult one as he managed just seven goals in 29 Serie A appearances, and after failing to settle in his new surroundings, he was welcomed back to Anfield with open arms in the summer of 1988.

On his return to Merseyside, Rush found himself in competition with new Liverpool strikers John Aldridge and Peter Beardsley. The goals continued to flow at a steady rate for the Welshman though, and he picked up two FA Cups, a League Cup and a First Division title in the eight seasons before his eventual departure from Liverpool in 1996.

Rush is Wales' record goalscorer with 28 goals from 73 appearances. But despite his excellent return, Wales were never able to qualify for a major tournament during his career, meaning he joins the likes of George Best and Ryan Giggs as a legend who never appeared at the highest level of international football.

Rush remains one of the most decorated players in Anfield history, and an inspiration to Liverpool supporters young and old. The likes of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll have one hell of a task on their hands if they are to get close to that goal scoring record. 

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