Euro 2016 will offer Gareth Bale the chance to show the world that he is definitely among the best players in the game. It’s been three years since Bale completed his reportedly world record transfer fee move to Real Madrid, and while he has proved decisive in two Champions League successes and scored the winner versus Barcelona in a Copa del Rey final there are still debates about whether he has justified his price tag or where he ranks among the elites.
The European Championships will present Wales with their first major tournament appearance in 58 years and there is no greater platform for Bale to show his repertoire of skills. Wales will enter the tournament with no one really having expectations of them pulling off a Greece 2004 style victory, but drawn into a group with Russia, Slovakia, and British rivals England they will be quietly confident that they can progress into the knockout stages and who knows maybe be the tournament’s dark horses.
They say football is a team game but when it comes to international tournaments the performances of individuals, whether good or bad, can swing the outcome substantially in one direction or the other. With Bale coming off arguably his best season at Real Madrid, Welsh supporters will be hoping he is able to put them into positions to create shockwaves. The positive thing for Wales is that Bale typically shows up for his country, unlike Ryan Giggs, especially in recent years. When we look at Wales’ qualification campaign we can see how vital a part Bale played. In regards to Wales’ 11 goals during qualification, Bale scored seven and assisted two more. Without him this momentous chance would likely not have presented itself, and he will be more than aware that he carries the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on his back.
The FIFA Ballon d’Or is not the be all and end all of how good a footballer is, but it does give us an indication. Bale’s goal is to be one of the best in the game but his highest standing in that list was ninth in 2013. The latest installment saw him place 16th, which means that in the minds of many Bale is slipping away from the top names in the game. Bale will turn 27 shortly after the completion of the Euros which means he is about to enter what should be the prime years of his footballing career. A strong showing for his nation at their first major tournament in 58 years will go a long way in convincing people that his name deserves to be mentioned among the ten best footballers in the planet.
Bale is in a unique position for a Welsh footballer. Perform and be the driving force behind something special and we will be forced to re-evaluate where we rank him amongst the best. Fail to perform and we’ll be saying he’s just another overpriced British footballer.