After signing for Tottenham from Southampton in 2007, Gareth Bale went 24 Premier League games without tasting victory in a Spurs shirt. Absent whenever the White Hart Lane outfit did pick up three points during his first two years with the club, the so-called ‘Bale curse’ led to the Welshman being looked upon as a talented, but somewhat unlucky charm.
Two seasons and many victories later, Harry Redknapp’s side have gone from not winning with the 22-year-old to being unable to triumph without him.
|"He's always had that potential but this year he's taken his game on to that next level ... it's great to see him performing so well."
- Manchester United's Ryan Giggs
For all of Bale’s obvious potential in previous campaigns, it was in 2010-11 that the youngster from Cardiff truly made the world sit up and take notice. Put under the glaring spotlight of the Champions League, the left winger proved that he not only has the talent to perform on the continent’s greatest stage, but could also carry a leading role with ease.
Having started the season well with a brace away to Stoke on the opening day of the season, Bale looked to be improving with every passing week, dominating the left flank with a consistency hardly befitting a team that contrived to lose early on in the campaign to Wigan and West Ham. It was during another defeat that the then-21-year-old’s stock rise exponentially.
|MOMENT OF THE SEASON
| CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
INTER 4-3 AC TOTTENHAM
|Harry Redknapp's side may have lost at San Siro but after hitting a stunning second-half hat-trick against the European champions, it was Bale's name on the lips of the continent.
At 3-0 down with a man sent off away to European champions Inter, Harry Redknapp’s side had looked to have been found out as continental pretenders. But as others floundered, Bale went into overdrive, turning Maicon, in the words of La Gazzetta dello Sport, “into asphalt,” and scored one of the competition’s greatest hat-tricks. The Italians won 4-3, but a star had been born at San Siro.
The Welshman performed similar miracles in the return clash at White Hart Lane a fortnight later, delivering two assists as Spurs won 3-1 to all but secure their progression to the knockout stages.
Further fine performances in the Premier League against Newcastle and Blackburn were to follow, as well as an inspirational showing to help Tottenham win away to north London rivals Arsenal for the first time in 17 years, as British football’s bright new hope helped Redknapp’s men beat Liverpool to a Europa League spot.
With 12 goals and three assists, Bale’s figures over the last season are unlikely to make the jaw drop. However, to quantify the starlet’s contribution to Tottenham, and indeed the game itself in 2010-11 is an almost irrelevant exercise. To measure the sheer thrill of seeing a potential superstar fulfil such expectations is impossible. These modest numbers may leave statisticians feeling underwhelmed, but football fans were anything but.
Neither, it seems, were Bale’s fellow professionals, who voted the former Southampton prodigy as PFA Player of the Year in April, as he joined Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs as the fourth Welshman to win the award.
|"Put under the glaring spotlight of the Champions League, the left winger proved that he not only has the talent to perform on the continent’s greatest stage, but could also carry a leading role with ease."
It is the latter who Bale is most often compared to as a footballer, and the Manchester United man has made no secret of his admiration for the youngster, stating: "He's always had that potential but this year he's taken his game on to that next level. As a winger myself and as a proud Welshman, it's great to see him performing so well."
With the Spurs man now back to full fitness and having signed a new contract to keep him in north London until 2015, it is Premier League defenders who will be feeling cursed when they have to face the winger throughout the 2011-12 campaign.