The football community now regards the PFA Player of the Year in 2011 as world-class.
Bale's rise to iconic status as one of the world's elite players has been meteoric to say the least. He signed with Spurs from Southampton in 2007 for the princely potential sum of £10 million. He then suffered the ignominy of not tasting a Premier League victory for 24 games over two years.
Less than one year later, Redknapp hailed him as one of the best players on the planet.
"I can't think of a better left-sided player really," Redknapp said after Bale scored an amazing volley against Stoke City. "That left foot of his is amazing, he can run all day, and he can head it—he's 6'2". He's got everything. You couldn't even put a value on him. Almost any club in the world would want to buy him—in fact, I know they would."
Three years later, Bale's progress as a player means Redknapp was right, and that Bale will almost certainly leave Spurs within the next two seasons. Real Madrid have long been admirers of Bale, and Zinedine Zidane, their director of football, has described the Spurs star as "unique" in the world of football.
Zidane told Sky Sports:
This year the player who's impressed me most is not actually playing in the Champions League. He's playing in "the other cup" and that's Bale.
He's unique. He makes things look easy, his pace is frightening, his acceleration is unbelievable because of his ability to go through the gears in very little space.
Plus, he's very good technically which is also important. We mustn't forget that he plays football very well!
Zidane is right, of course.
Bale possesses a phenomenal skill set and is now openly compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
He is exceptionally quick and, as Zidane noted, is able to "go through the gears in very little space." This incredibly difficult skill to master often only comes with the very best athletes and footballers. It is basically the ability to speed up and then speed up again.
It is difficult to do without a ball, and near impossible to do with a ball. Fans often disregard this ability as just running, but in truth there are very few players or athletes capable of it. Add this skill to his superb array of footballing talents, and Gareth Bale is very special indeed.
This season he has been central, quite literally, to all that is good about Tottenham Hotspur. He can attack from deep, he can shoot from distance, he has the dribbling ability to beat opponents in a short space before accelerating away and he has the vision and passing ability to be a top-class playmaker.
Bale's statistical contribution as measured by Opta and WhoScored.com has him down as the fifth-most effective player in Europe this season just behind Lionel Messi, Franck Ribéry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Stefan Kiessling.
We can see from this table that Bale's game has improved over the past four seasons and immeasurably since 2007, when he first joined Spurs:
The one intangible that proves almost impossible to measure is movement. It is here that Bale's game has really moved to another level. When he was first introduced into the Tottenham team by Harry Redknapp, it was as a left-back, after Benoit Assou-Ekotto got injured.
As hoped, his game evolved greatly, and he became a potent force for any team. However, it was very noticeable that teams had discovered ways to isolate Bale while on the wing. Teams either doubled up Bale or cut off his supply line, which negated his threat.
Spurs' solution to the problem was to take advantage of his off-the-ball movement and move him inside to a central attacking role.
Because his pace is so incredible and his movement is so intelligent, even in tight areas, all of a sudden Bale popped up all over the pitch. In truth, he is now almost impossible to mark. This foresight by Andre Villas-Boas and Bale shows that as a player he is perceptive, understanding and extremely clever. He is also brave and confident enough to take the ball on in dangerous situations, whereas other players would balk at the potential of losing the ball.
Add in his physical attributes—he is 6'2", the same height as Ronaldo, strong as an ox and almost as quick as Usain Bolt with the velvet touch of a superb footballer—and it is no surprise that he has become a world-class talent and potential future Ballon d'Or winner.
As his game improved, so too did his transfer value. Since joining Spurs for around £7 million in 2007, Bale is now seen as a potential £50 million player.
This also brings us to another topic for discussion which really marks the Welshman as a phenom.
Many top-class footballers start out as forwards and then become defenders or midfielders. Ashley Cole was a superb winger in the Arsenal youth team before he became a world-class left-back. Bobby Charlton and John Giles were exceptional wingers in the Busby Babes and went on to become two of the greatest all-round midfielders the game has ever seen.
The list of defenders who evolve into world-class attacking midfielders is very slim indeed. Bale is one such player.
When he won the award in 2011, Bale was brilliant. He has improved immeasurably since then.
There is little doubt that as a front-runner for PFA Player of the Year in 2013, Bale has improved more than any other player in the league and is now one of the leading world-class talents in the EPL.
Statistics provided by whoscored.com, premierleague.com and transfermarkt.com.
You can look me up on Twitter @WillieGannon
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