Bale=Giggs Mk II
Born in Cardiff, having a left foot touched by magic and with a knack of lighting up Wales's World Cup Qualifying Campaigns, Gareth Bale and Ryan Giggs have much in common. Bale has been far and away Wales's brightest light in the campaign to date, generating excitement reminiscent of that surrounding Giggs during the early nineties.
There is certainly much similarity between their early careers. Giggs made his League debut at 17 and was named the PFA Young Player of the Year at the end of his first full season (1991-92). At sixteen years of age, Bale became the second youngest player to appear for Southampton, behind Theo Walcott, and his first full season saw him named the Football League Young Player of the Year. Giggs became Wales's youngest international in 1991; Bale did the same in 2006.
Walcott has since moved to Spurs' North London rivals Arsenal and has generated a great deal of coverage in the English press after his hat-trick against Croatia. Bale's contribution to Wales's qualifying campaign could yet be the bigger story. That depends on whether or not he can inspire Wales to go one better than they did with Giggs in 1993. The early signs are promising; despite missing a penalty in Moscow, Bale then set up Ledley's equaliser with a superb break into the Russian box.
The USA '94 campaign started with a 5-1 defeat in Romania and finished with a crossbar ending Welsh dreams. What appears to have opened the window of opportunity for Wales in 1992/93 is the fact that the top four teams in Group 4 all took points off each other. In 2008/09 Finland have already pushed Germany all the way in a 3-3 draw.
The great shame with Giggs wasn't so much the fact that he didn't get to play on the world stage but that he didn't play for Wales as many times as he ought to have done. He won just 64 caps in sixteen years; by comparison, Manchester United team-mate Paul Scholes won 66 caps in just seven years. Yes, Scholes played for England at France 98 (4 games), Euro 2000 (4), World Cup 2002 (5), and Euro 2004 (4) but even without these tournament appearances he still averaged seven caps per year. This compares favourably to Giggs's four. Hopefully Bale will show more commitment to the Welsh cause than Giggs did during the last decade of his international career.
The bigger question, of course, is whether Gareth Bale's chest is anything like as hairy as that of Ryan Giggs and whether he'll ever get name-dropped in The Simpsons.