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Tottenham Hotspurís Gareth Bale has been one of the players of the season so far.
TOBY MELVILLE
Tottenham Hotspurís Gareth Bale has been one of the players of the season so far.

Spurs's Bale gets seal of approval from peer Ginola

Gareth Bale is not merely Tottenham's finest left winger since Ginola; he is White Hart Lane's premier candidate for Footballer of the Year.

It is remembered as the year Manchester United managed a historic treble, virtually a clean sweep. But 1998/99, while their greatest season, did contain a couple of notable setbacks for Sir Alex Ferguson's all-conquering side.

Both the Professional Footballers' Association and the Football Writers' Association's player of the year awards went, not to Roy Keane, David Beckham or to Dwight Yorke, but to David Ginola.

It was a sign that the United vote was split but it amounted to recognition of Ginola's brilliance for Tottenham, nonetheless. Since then, no Spur has come close to the individual honours. Until now, perhaps. Gareth Bale is not merely Tottenham's finest left winger since Ginola, he is White Hart Lane's premier candidate for Footballer of the Year.

Who better, then, to assess Bale?

"He is one of the best players in the Premier League," Ginola said. "So far he has proved they can rely on him, not just as a kid but as a big asset, financially and in a sporting way. Hopefully they can keep him."

They are proof that wingers come in very different forms. Ginola, 32 in 1999, was right-footed, with a marked preference for skill over sprinting and, with his matinee-idol looks, was the exotic Frenchman who brought a taste of the Mediterranean to North London; Bale, 21, is a left-footer who uses his sheer speed to torment defenders. The Welshman is pleasingly down to earth which, since he scored three goals against the European champions Inter Milan in the San Siro, is no mean feat.

"Brilliant," Ginol said. "What can you say about him? When you score a hat-trick in Milan, you are a great player."

Today, Bale and Spurs encounter Ginola's first club in England. He joined Newcastle United from Paris St Germain in 1995. Another future Tottenham player, Les Ferdinand, was the beneficiary of Ginola's supply line from the left flank as Kevin Keegan's side came agonisingly close to winning the Premier League in his debut season. He sees similarities with Newcastle's current No 9.

"Andy Carroll is the future of Newcastle and England," he said. "He is a strong guy, a striker who is not scared of anyone."

Ginola, speaking on behalf of Premier League sponsors Barclays, was disappointed by the Newcastle dismissal of the coach Chris Hughton earlier this month. He is more encouraged by events at White Hart Lane. "They are doing pretty well in the Champions League. Rafael van der Vaart is a good signing," he said.

The Dutchman scored both goals in Sunday's win at Villa Park, where Jermain Defoe's dismissal means he will be banned today. Newcastle are without the suspended Kevin Nolan while, after Tim Krul erred for Manchester City's first goal on Sunday, Alan Pardew has the option of recalling the fit-again first-choice keeper Steve Harper.

Victory would take Tottenham into the top four but, while Harry Redknapp talks bullishly about a title charge, Ginola is less confident. "They need to be more consistent," he said. "Once in a while they make mistakes and lose."

It is, though, an advance since his time at the club. "Back in the late 1990s we were not challenging to win the league. The way we played was not good enough," he said. Now, they might just be.

7pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 7

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