Gareth Bale scores goals. Strikers score goals. Thus Gareth Bale is a striker. A + B = C, right? Wrong.
There seems to be a new fascination making it's way through the papers. That fascination is the idea that Gareth Bale is the striker that Spurs need after the injury to Jermain Defoe and the club's failure to acquire a striker in the January transfer window. This ridiculous idea has been fueled not only by journalists, but by Wales manager Chris Coleman and Tottenham's own manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Coleman recently came out and said that, although Gareth won't be starting up front against Austria on Wednesday, it's a move that Coleman will definitely consider in the future. Villas-Boas was a bit more subtle in his comments following Defoe's injury, saying only that Bale playing striker is a "possibility". This two comments, obviously, set the English press to work concocting stories about whether or not Bale would be successful as a striker.
This article from the Mirror lists several reason why Gareth Bale should play striker. The main point of the article seems to be that Gareth Bale has scored more goals this season than Emmanuel Adebayor and as a result would be a better striking option than the Togolese front man. Factually, this point is spot on. In 29 appearances for Spurs this season Bale has 13 goals. Adebayor, meanwhile, has only 3 goals in 18 total appearances. Point proven, right? More goals = striker.
Let's use these stats in a different way. In his appearances for Spurs, Bale has taken 112 shots, of which 52 were on target. That's an average of 3.8 shots per game and 1.7 shots on target per game. Adebayor meanwhile has taken 28 shots, of which 14 were on target. That averages out to 1.5 shots per game and .8 shots on target per game. Again, Gareth shoots more and gets more shots on target per game. Obviously, this must make him a striker too. More shots = striker.
So clearly, because of Gareth's greater goal threat and the fact that he shoots more (though slightly more inaccurately) makes him a better option at striker than Adebayor. Sure Adebayor has scored 154 goals in his club career, 107 more than Bale, but Adebayor is out of form right now and he gets disinterested sometimes and there's just really no point in even bothering to play him at striker because he's pants. Gareth Bale, however, is awesome. He's pretty much single handedly rescued Spurs with his goals all season. Why would you not play him as a striker?
The answer to that last question is simple. It is because Gareth Bale is not a striker. Bale is many things. He's a winger, an inside forward, a wingback, and maybe even a fullback. He can play right wing or he can play left wing, but he SHOULD NOT play striker. Now, I won't say that he couldn't play striker. Couldn't implies the inability to do something. Hell, Gary Doherty could play striker. That doesn't mean he should have though.
Gareth Bale thrives by playing out wide and cutting inside. He lives for the counterattack. Gareth Bale is best with space and time on the ball. He is genuinely terrifying when he is able to run at opposing defenders and when he cuts inside onto his left or his right foot he has the capability to send beautiful curling shots into the top corner. All these things are products of his position on the outside. The middle of the pitch is clogged. There are big central defenders and defensive midfielders constantly shadowing you, waiting to win the ball from you the second you show too much of it to them. Bale is a good player, but playing a central role is not where he belongs.
I've heard some of you say, "Well he played well there during our US tour." That's true. He played pretty well...in the preseason against MLS clubs. That's a whole lot different than playing well against Chelsea or Manchester City. Again, I'm not saying Bale can't do it. I'm saying he shouldn't. Pushing Bale into the center of the pitch is not going to put him in a position to succeed. He won't have the same opportunities or space that he does out wide and that will hurt his productivity.
Additionally, in Tottenham's system the striker serves functions other than scoring goals. He is asked to help hold the ball up. To help link with the attacking trident behind him. He is asked to make runs into space dragging defenders out of the way to open space for others. These are all things that I'm not sure Bale would excel at. Bale is a big strong lad, but he's not as physical as Adebayor. One of Adebayor's best qualities is his strength on the ball and ability to link up with those around him. Likewise, Jermain Defoe has become excellent at making unselfish runs to pull defenders out of position. Adebayor does the same. That's not a trick that I've seen Bale exhibit during his career.
Another thing you have to weigh is the opportunity cost* of playing Bale at striker. If Bale plays striker then you lose his services wide on the left. If Bale isn't on the left then Clint Dempsey or Gylfi Sigurddson or someone else has to play there. While both of those players are certainly good and capable Premier League players, neither of them is Gareth Bale. In no way does whatever benefit Tottenham may derive from playing Bale as a striker exceed the harm done by not having him out wide on the left. Especially when you consider that an in-form Adebayor is a much better option at striker than Sigurdsson or Dempsey would be at a position that isn't exactly their first choice either.