During his last season at Tottenham, Gareth Bale played a roaming center attacking role, with freedom to dribble, shoot from distance, and assist. In essence, he was taking on the roles and responsibilities of both a number nine and ten. His impressive performances prompted a record breaking move to Real Madrid. Continuing to shine bright, the powerful winger made an instant impact in Madrid.
Mostly contributing from the wing in his debut season, he provided speedy runs and scored decisive goals that aided Real in their quest to win their coveted tenth European title, while also finishing on top as Copa Del Rey winners. This alluded for more success to come. However, his second season was underwhelming. Despite a bright pre-season, the club overall finished disappointingly compared to their lofty standards, which initiated change within the club.
Let's fast forward to now. Since the start of the 2015-16 season, Bale has undergone a re-invention of sorts at Real Madrid. Though tactically Bale is put on the right wing for the team's shape, Bale is no longer limited to the sides. Under Rafa Benitez, the Welsh Wizard was encouraged to become the team's focal point. For the past couple of years, much of Real Madrid's success has come down to their impressive counter attack, with the team suiting the Number 7; now though, Madrid will be relying more on the Number 11 as Ronaldo declines. We are getting glimpses of a post-Ronaldo Madrid which has to arrive at some point, and Bale is considered by the club and staff to be the heir to the throne.
In the past, we have been blessed to have seen amazing number 10's; Ronaldinho, Zidane, and Rivaldo to name a few. We have also seen magical number 9's; Ronaldo, Del Piero, and Raul for example. Spanish football pundit Gulliem Balague, however, cleverly labeled Gareth Bale a number "9.5." I am in total agreement with this statement. Despite Bale not being natural 10 like Isco or James, he is offering a total different dimension.
Essentially, Bale is uniquely able to score like a number 9, headers, finessed goals, powerful shots from distace, and create like a number 10; hence, the "9.5" title. This modernized take on the 'shadow-striker/ false nine' position exemplifies his development and depth as a footballer. With Ronaldo and Benzema more of the direct players comprised of the B-B-C, Bale's tactical flexibility and versatility has seen his stats improve as well. In his last 14 games, he has 12 goals and 7 assists. Though the stats may be inflated due to the numbers coming from lower-level teams lately, Bale has demonstrated hat he can put the team on his back if given the liberty, as he has done with his country Wales.
In addition, Bale offers powerful shots from distance in a knuckle ball fashion, the type of strike we come to expect from Cristiano Ronaldo. He also boasts the physical strength to hold off players/challenges, and the speed to out run defenders. When he is not finding himself on the end of a cross or pass, he has shown that he too is capable of picking out through balls and making passes in transition.
As Real find themselves in somewhat of a sticky situation with their transfer ban, Bale's distinctive combination of raw power and finesse could prove vital as Madrid look to continue their groove under Zinedine Zidane. This season undoubtedly will be defining in his Real Madrid career as the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea are reportedly keeping tabs on the 26-year-old.