I believe Manchester City fans are in for a treat next season in the shape of £15m winger Jesus Navas. The Spanish international, signed from Sevilla, will light up the Etihad Stadium – and, hopefully, away grounds, too – if he reproduces the form he has shown during his appearances at the Confederations Cup in Brazil. I think City fans will be saying ‘here, at long last, is a winger to compare with our heroes of years gone by.’ Blues supporters of a certain age live with the memory of wingers like David Wagstaffe, Mike Summerbee and Peter Barnes. And, now, I reckon they have a player who has the ability to lift people off their seats, just as the aforementioned guys did.
Navas simply loves to take on defenders and cross the ball. And he has the speed and the skill to do both of those things. Okay, like all genuine wide players, Navas will frustrate as well as excite. And I’m not sure how much tracking back his team-mates can expect from him! But I am certain that he will embody one of the finest sights in football, that of a player surging past opponents and leaving defences rocking on the back foot. At 27 and after 10 years with Sevilla and 28 appearances for Spain, Navas is the complete, experienced package. Champions Manchester United have paid a similar figure for Wilfried Zaha, from Crystal Palace. But United bought potential when they signed the 20-year-old who will require some schooling before he passes the test. Navas, however, is a graduate and he is the real deal. Andres Iniesta, the superb Barcelona midfielder, puts Navas in the same bracket as last season’s outstanding Premier League player Gareth Bale, of Tottenham. As I say, City fans, you are going to see something special.
PS. I am delighted for Tottenham fans because it seems certain that Gareth Bale will remain at White Hart Lane, though possibly only for one more season. Reports suggest Real Madrid have put their pursuit of the Welsh wonder boy on hold, leaving 23-year-old Bale to continue his barnstorming progress with Spurs. Bale, understandably, will want Champions League football and Spurs, who have offered Bale a big pay rise, have underscored their desire to give it to him with the signing of Brazil midfielder Paulinho. It would not surprise me if Bale has a clause written into his new deal saying he can leave next summer. Who knows, if Spurs do qualify for the Champions League, he may not invoke it.
There was something poignant about watching Gareth Bale seal another win for Tottenham with another fabulous strike, only to discover that Arsenal’s win at Newcastle had pipped Spurs to the Champions League fourth place, thus denying this exceptional young player the opportunity to play on the biggest stage in club football. But you can bet that there are several clubs itching to offer him that very thing. As I’ve said already in these notes, Bale is THE player in the Premier League who will be the most sought after this summer. The best teams in England, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, would all be improved with Bale in their line-up.That means Tottenham have a big decision to make if they are to keep the man around whom the team revolves. In an era of outstanding athletes on the soccer pitches of the world, Bale has emerged as an elite performer, a player who combines impressive physique with power, pace and control and a gift for scoring goals from all areas.
Players of his quality understandably expect to perform at the highest level in Europe and that means the Champions League. I mean no disrespect to Wales, the country of Bale’s birth, but he is extremely unlikely to savour the ultimate thrill of international football, competing at World Cup finals, let alone European finals, proud though I am sure he is to wear the red shirt. There have been some world-class Welsh players in the past 20 years, like goalkeeper Neville Southall, midfielders Gary Speed and Ryan Giggs and striker Mark Hughes, all of whom never savoured the big international stage. Hughes and Giggs, of course, had the consolation of many European club campaigns with Manchester United. And that is what Bale will aspire to.
So, the challenge for Tottenham supremo Daniel Levy is to keep the predators who can offer Bale the glamour of the Champions League at bay. There has been talk of a huge pay rise offer, in the region of £170,000 a week, for Bale and Spurs fans can only hope he is willing to accept and continue to be their driving force next season. If not, you can be sure Levy will demand the highest price for one of the most coveted players in the world. For example, if Cristiano Ronaldo were to leave Real Madrid, the Spaniards would almost certainly try for Bale and Levy would insist upon a fee in the region of the £80million Real paid Manchester United for Ronaldo three years ago.
The Premier League title race was decided weeks ago by Manchester United and Wigan, Reading and QPR are confirmed as the three relegated clubs – but, thankfully, we still have drama to savour in tomorrow’s fixture finale. Tottenham are hoping to pip Arsenal to fourth place and, therefore, qualification for the Champions League play-off place, while the Gunners are also involved in a race for third place with Chelsea. And that particular battle could result in a tension-filled play-off at Villa Park on May 26.
That scenario would occur if Chelsea were to draw at home to Everton 0-0 and Arsenal were to win at Newcastle 2-1, leaving both London clubs level on points, goal difference and goals scored. At least, that’s as I understand the complicated situation! The third-placed club would go into the Champions League at the Group stage, while fourth place means the qualifying competition. Mark my words, it won’t be easy for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. While I expect Arsenal to at least draw at Newcastle, who are safe from relegation and under no great pressure to perform, and Chelsea, fresh from their Europa Cup triumph, are buoyant, I expect my former club Everton to make life very difficult at The Bridge. Look at the facts: Everton, who have lost only one more match than Manchester United, have drawn 15, making them the draw specialists of the division. The Toffees haven’t won at Chelsea since my team did so, 1-0, in my second game in charge in 1994 and I’m sure outgoing manager David Moyes would dearly love to sign off with a similar result.
For Tottenham, their home clash with Sunderland is a must-win game. And I expect them to do so. Injury-hit Sunderland, who have secured safety by the skin of their teeth, don’t have the firepower to win at White Hart Lane, where they might do well to win a corner-kick! Tottenham, on the other hand, play their biggest match of the season, with Player of the Year (and Young Player of the Year) Gareth Bale primed to sign off his superb season in style. I just feel that it will end in bitter disappointment for Spurs, as I expect Arsenal to beat Newcastle, thus securing fourth place, at least.