I VIVIDLY remember a chat I had around six years ago with Brian Flynn, who was then in charge of the Wales Under-21 team. He was raving about a player who was only 16 or 17 but already in his set-up and had, he said, two gears more speed than anybody else.
That player was Gareth Bale, and his outstanding form for Tottenham this season, and especially over the last few weeks, demonstrates that he has developed into far more than just an incredibly fast runner.
Bale, who is now 23, has harnessed that pace to terrorise opponents. He has a fantastic delivery with his left foot but, far from just creating goals, he also scores them too – and vital ones in big matches, at that.
The former Southampton trainee has shown that his dazzling hat-trick against Inter Milan at the San Siro in 2010 was by no means a fluke. He has improved with each passing season and meets all the criteria to be described as world class.
I’m not sure whether comparisons with the two superstars of Spanish football, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, are relevant – what is, though, is that he can do things other players cannot. His attributes are unique, and that’s what separates the good from the best.
Without a doubt he is my choice for Player of the Year. Robin van Persie, perhaps his nearest rival, has been brilliant but is playing in the top team, Manchester United, and therefore it is easier for him to perform at his top level.
Tottenham would not be in the top four without Bale’s extraordinary form – there can be no argument about that. He is carrying them and if you took him away I think Spurs would probably drop three or four places.
Short-term, the biggest concern in Andre Villas-Boas’s mind will be keeping his star player fit. Beyond this season, the manager will wonder whether the club can hold onto such a talent.
Barcelona and Real Madrid have been mooted as possible destinations and I believe he would be absolutely unbelievable for either side. His game is perfectly suited to play at that level and the prospect of playing for one of those teams, among their galaxy of wonderful talents, must be tempting.
However, his form suggests he is happy at White Hart Lane. Players tend to perform best when they are happy, and the arrival of Villas-Boas this season seems to have been good for Bale.
If they maintain their top flight position and qualify for the Champions League I think he’ll stay another year. But his recent form will have alerted the whole world of football and he’ll certainly have no shortage of alternatives.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. He now works as a media commentator and talent scout.
BALE BY NUMBERS
8 Number of goals Bale has scored in his last six Tottenham games. He also has three in his last three appearances for Wales
10 Points Spurs have taken from their last six Premier League matches. Without Bale’s goals (six of the club’s last seven) that figure would be one
23 Total goals this season for Tottenham (19) and Wales (four). He has already surpassed last season’s 15, while his other hauls are 12 (2010-11), three (2009-10), none (2008-09) and three (2007-08)