Early Doors

The Cardiff Cristiano’s in a league of his own

Early Doors

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Early Doors has been trying its best to be self-restrained and level-headed about this, but sometimes the temptation is just too strong. This feeling comes in overpowering waves.

So it is with unbridled enthusiasm that ED throws caution to the wind and shouts from the rooftops that, yes, there is more than a bit of the Cristiano Ronaldos about Gareth Bale at present.

If you thought Bale's double free-kick performance against Lyon was a bit outlandish, or his string of vital goals in the Premier League was a touch improbable, nothing could have prepared you for last night's show against West Ham.

A lovely run and strike from the edge of the box and a free-kick which set up Tottenham's second goal were merely a prelude to the masterpiece that came in injury time.

Having just been chopped to ground by a clumsy tackle, Bale demanded the ball back off Tom Carroll, knocked it slightly to the left to find an angle and let fly from 30 yards with a shot that found the top corner with all the speed and precision of a heat-seeking missile.

It was the kind of goal that causes neutrals to leap out of their seats and scream in near disbelief. The kind of goal that only the very best or the very lucky can score, and there's no doubt which of those categories Bale belongs to. At this moment in time, there is no one in England to match him.

Robin van Persie may have decided more matches - his 19 goals have delivered 22 points, Bale's 15 have brought 15 - while Juan Mata has arguably had a more consistent season on a game-by-game basis, but the level Bale has reached these last few months puts him on another plain altogether.

He has taken to winning games on his own, almost every week. We have seen this ability before in the Premier League from strikers like Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer, but from someone who is supposed to be a wide player? The mind immediately flicks back to a certain Portuguese gradually filling out the red shirt of Manchester United.

Though Jeff Stelling's recent claim that Bale is already a better player than Ronaldo was rightly met with derision, comparisons between the two players are growing ever more relevant.

The first time it really clicked for ED was last season when Bale took the ball on a surging run right through the Norwich midfield and scored with a delightful dinked finish. Put Bale in a pair of pink speedos and bronze him up and you've got a Ronny mk II, ED thought, failing to dispel the mental image for some time.

This season the Spurs star's Ronaldo-ification has accelerated following his symbolic acceptance of the more attacking No. 11 shirt rather than the defensive No. 3. He hits free-kicks like the Real Madrid star, and with a similar degree of success. After missing a chance he grabs his head in the same way and conjures up the same expression. His physical frame is near-identical. He has free licence to roam across the pitch, careering past opponents like a runaway train.

Gary Neville said Bale's first goal against West Ham had hints of Arjen Robben in the way he took three deft touches to push the ball forward on the edge of the box, but the finish was all Ronaldo. As was the remarkable second.

If someone tried to clone Ronaldo, Bale would likely be the result with 80 per cent of the process complete. He's gone beyond the realms of Ronaldo-ish and is now most definitely Ronaldo-y, and possibly even Ronaldo-esque.

A word of caution, though. At Bale's age, Ronaldo had already scored 31 goals in a Premier League season and won the Champions League, the FIFA World Player of the Year award and the Ballon d'Or. He has heading skills and a natural flair for finishing that Bale will never have. Mind you, he can't play left-back.

In terms of pure physicality and destructive power the two are certainly similar. Just look at the way Bale made up five metres on Emanuel Pogatetz by the touchline late on last night, like the T-1000 ruthlessly hunting down John Connor.

When it was put to Andre Villas-Boas that Bale might be approaching world class status, the Portuguese had to stifle a giggle. After suggesting his Welsh wonder had already reached that status some time ago, he told another inquisitor that Bale should win the PFA Player of the Year award and the Footballer of the Year award for this season.

"I think so," said AVB. "It would be truly deserved, but it's not up to me to make that consideration. But you have to recognise he's having a tremendous season. So probably a contender, he is for us, hopefully he can get there.

"He is a great, great talent and to see him keep trying in the last minute exemplifies the talent that he is. Taking the ball, receiving it, getting fouled in between, getting up - he has got stick for staying down - but he gets up and gets on with business and managed to score a great goal."

If they have a player comparable with Ronaldo - one of football's all-time greats, lest we forget - then Spurs are going to do extremely well to hold onto him beyond the summer. If they don't secure Champions League football for next season then it seems almost certain that Bale will be departing White Hart Lane.

But with the Cardiff Cristiano in this kind of form, and Spurs sitting above Chelsea and Arsenal in the league table, the Premier League's most destructive physical specimen could take them there himself.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We won the European Cup with this team." - Short but sweet, the Daily Mail details a biting response from an unnamed Chelsea player to criticism from Rafa Benitez in a training-ground row on Monday. As the paper's Neil Ashton reports: "After picking up on a comment made by skipper Terry in the dressing room following their defeat at City, Benitez attempted to single him out. Terry defended himself and reminded Benitez that senior players have spoken to him about his managerial methods since he arrived after Chelsea's shambolic defeat in the Champions League against Juventus. A discussion that began with the best of intentions then descended into a heated discussion between the players and the interim coach." File under: one to watch.

FOREIGN VIEW: Steve McClaren has announced this morning that he is leaving FC Twente after getting the vote of confidence yesterday from the Dutch club. Twente are currently fifth in the league table, six points behind leaders PSV Eindhoven.

COMING UP: Oh, have we got a good one for you tonight. It's Barcelona v Real Madrid in the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final, with kick-off coming at 8pm. The first leg was a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu. Everton also take on Oldham in their FA Cup fifth-round replay, which kicks off at 7.45pm. Paul Parker blogs for us at lunch before James Horncastle has an update from Serie A.

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