x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Bale's belated rise to the top at Spurs

This time last year, Gareth Bale was bracing himself for the indignity of being shipped out on loan by Tottenham Hotspur.

Tottenham's Gareth Bale outjumps Newcastle's Steven Taylor at White Hart Lane, London, on Tuesday.
Tottenham's Gareth Bale outjumps Newcastle's Steven Taylor at White Hart Lane, London, on Tuesday.

This time last year, Gareth Bale was bracing himself for the indignity of being shipped out on loan by Tottenham Hotspur.

Burnley, who were then in the Premier League were keen and so were Sporting Lisbon, the Portuguese tean. But that was about the extent of the interest; not much then really.

The whispers around the game were that, for all his talent, Bale would not make the top grade because he was injury prone, lacked confidence and perhaps, at just 20, his best days were behind him.

Bale prepares for this New Year having been one of the players of 2010 with a £50 million (Dh282m) price tag on his head, and is coveted by Real Madrid.

Tottenham's emergence as a major force over the past 12 months has been down to several factor, but the emergence of Bale has been one of the most significant.

He has been a consistently outstanding performer on Tottenham's left flank, but two stunning individual displays at home and away to Inter Milan in the Champions League in November brought him both mass attention and adulation in equal measure.

That he has been mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi and hailed as the next Ryan Giggs by so many within the game emphasises how highly he is now regarded.

No bad for a player whose career looked washed up before it had really started.

Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham coach, recalls: "I knew about Gareth and what talent he could be because he was a kid when I was a manger at Southampton. But when I first arrived at Spurs he was out injured. There were some of the fitness people around the club who were telling me he just wouldn't get fit.

"To be honest I couldn't believe some of it and we changed a few things to his routine. But he still seemed lacking in confidence and, its true, we started to wonder whether he needed to go out on loan and get games under his belt. But then things turned around."

Bale also had to live under the pressure of a "jinx" that had grown around him. In the 24 Premier League matches he had appeared in since his £6m signing from Southampton in 2007, Spurs had not won any of them.

Redknapp astutely lifted that curse when he sent Bale on as an 85th-minute substitute in a 5-0 win over Burnley 15 months ago.

Then at the turn of last year with Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar struggling with injuries, Bale started to come into his own when given a run in the side on the left of midfield rather than at left back.

His poise pace and stamina on the wing combined with a left foot that could pass shoot and cross with power and accuracy suddenly saw him living upto his potential.

Bale recalled: "When I went to senior school in south Wales the PE teacher felt I was too good for most of the other boys - so he banned me from using my left foot in games. Right foot only. If I used my left it was a free-kick. It annoyed me a bit but I guess it has helped me."

Bale was also a phenomenal athlete. By his early teens, he posted times of 11.4secs in the 100 metres and 4mins 8secs in the 1,500m - which could have put him on a path to Olympic standard, had he chosen to go that way.

But he also suffered severe growing pains.

"The muscles were struggling to stretch and grow at the rate my bones were growing," he said. "It gave me problems with my back and my hamstrings. For a while it threatened my football career."

But he overcame them and was signed up with the Southampton Academy and soon became the second youngest player in the club's history -behind Theo Walcott - now of course of Arsenal - who at the time was his flat mate.

Yet, shortly after his move to Spurs, he was out of the game for over a year with a variety of leg injuries that eventually required a metal screw in his foot.

He overcame those problems and he adds: "Despite how well things have gone of late, I don't take anything for granted. I'll keep my feet on the ground."

Indeed, after those brilliant displays against Inter -a hat-trick in the 4-3 defeat at the San Siro then pulling the strings, and pulling Brazil right back Maicon apart, in the 3-1 win at White Hart Lane - Bale showed how grounded he is.

"I gave him a few days off but instead of flying off to Dubai, he went back for a quiet few days with his family in South Wales," said Redknapp.

And although Bale would have more cause than most to have a big party tomorrow on New Year's Eve he won't even himself a single glass of champagne.

"I don't drink alcohol," explained Bale. "It is not that I am against it - I just don't like the taste."

"It would seem the sweet smell of success is good enough for Gareth Bale.