What a difference 12 months make. Especially in the world of Gareth Bale. This time last year Bale was a perennial benchwarmer, and looking like Tottenham had wasted £10m on potential, rather than on a player who was ever going to make the finished article. Fast forward to last night, and Bale is scoring a sumptuous hat-trick in the San Siro against UEFA Champions League holders Inter Milan and seemingly has the footballing world at his feet.
So what has changed? What has happened to Gareth Bale between being kept out of the Spurs team by an in-form Benoît Assou-Ekotto, and someone who Harry Redknapp noted as “a player we hope to build a team around”? A lot of hard work by the player, one would surmise, combined with a change in attitude from both Bale and his manager.
At the beginning of the 2009-10 season Bale was struggling with injury, missing both pre-season and the start of the Premier League campaign. When he did return to full fitness, his left-back spot was filled by Assou-Ekotto, and notoriously having never started a game which Spurs had gone on to win (this all changed in January 2010) Redknapp appeared reluctant to utilise the young Welshman. But it is in Bale’s exclusion from the Tottenham starting 11 at the hands of Assou-Ekotto, that we can begin to trace the remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of the 21 year-old.
Versatility can often be detrimental to players, with many footballers described as being ‘versatile’ pigeon-holed as ‘utility players’, and some rarely finding their way into their club’s starting 11 with any regularity. But in Gareth Bale’s versatility on the left-hand side of the pitch Redknapp has found not only Bale’s greatest strength, but quite possible Spurs’ greatest asset. An injury to Assou-Ekotto, combined with Bale’s versatile nature allowed him to force his way into the Spurs team in early 2010, with his performances towards the end of the season earning him both the Barclays Player of the Month Award for April 2010, and Tottenham’s Young Player of the Year Award for the 2009-10 season.
Playing as a left striker in some games for his country, and in a more advanced role for Spurs has meant Redknapp can fit both Assou-Ekotto and Bale in on the left side for Tottenham, utilising the young Welshman’s offensive capabilities to great effect, as has been emphasised by Bale scoring a goal in every other game in all competitions this season.
In Gareth Bale, young players have the perfect role model to aspire to. Through hard work, persistence, patience and above all taking an opportunity with both hands, Bale has risen over the last 12 months to become a hero a White Hart Lane, and if Redknapp makes Champions League football a regular occurrence in the white half of north London, I see no reason for the 21 year-old to move on any time soon.