Gareth Bale, the Premier League's most complete athlete, scored what will surely be a contender for goal of the season against Stoke City on Saturday. His goal, a thunderous left footed volley that Bruce Lee would have been proud of, secured Tottenham's first win of the season and set them up perfectly for the return leg of their Champions League preliminary game against Young Boys of Switzerland next Wednesday.
The win answered two questions that were lingering over Spurs; 1) how would they deal with matches before and after a Champions League game? And 2) Would Spurs have the bottle to travel to a place like the Britannia and come away with a point, never mind three?
For Spurs the 2-1 win and the much needed three points were a perfect response to the media—many of whom were expecting Harry Redknapp's side to lose the first time questions were asked about their character and squad.
The win was also an ironic one in some ways. Two years ago Bale was sent off in his side's defeat at the Britannia, a result which helped close the door on Juande Ramos' time at the club and which in turn led to his current manager, Harray Redknapp, getting the job.
In the end the Welsh defender/midfielder, depending upon your point of view, scored a double that moved Spurs towards the top end of the table and cemented the growing view that Tottenham Hotspur have one of if not the most exciting left-sided player in the league, with his manager saying as much after the match.
"I can't think of a better left-sided player really," Harry Redknapp said. "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."
High praise indeed, but that wasn't always the case.
Bale joined Martin Jol's Spurs side in June 2007 for the princely sum of £10 million. Initially, the Dutchman argued against the Welsh teenager's signing. He had originally wanted Martin Petrov to solve his team's left sided problems and not an untried kid.
Jol felt that the young Welshman was forced upon him and argued his case against Damien Comolli, Spurs' Director of Football, to chairman Daniel Levy. He was told that the investment in the 18-year-old was for the future and to make do, while Jol felt that his side were at the stage that they needed experience to bring them onto the next level.
It was an argument that would simmer until his sacking on October 25.
The new left-full was thrown in at the deep end. He was obviously carrying an injury when he made his debut against St. Patrick's Athletic in Dublin. Looking very stiff, Bale hardly broke forward at all during the game and was incredibly nervous in possession. So much so, that many walking away after Tottenham's victory wondered if Spurs had just wasted another £10 million on a player who flattered to deceive.
Three goals in his first four starts swept many of those fears away, but his defensive attributes were beginning to be questioned more than ever. An incredible statistic of Spurs never winning while Bale was on the pitch began to play on his mind, 24 games, and it wasn't until September 2009, some two years after he joined the club, that the Lilywhites won a game with him on the pitch.
From there his game went from strength to strength.
At 6'2", Bale is powerfully built and is technically brilliant. These combinations of supreme technique with supreme physical prowess make the left-sided defender one of the most dangerous players in the Premier League.
Such is his phenomenal stamina that he is relentless in his attack of opposing players, most of whom end up resembling punch-drunk boxers after constant punishment.
But this was not always the case.
The first two years of Bale's Spurs career were decimated by injury, most of which could be attributed to his muscular physique and natural development.
He has always been something of natural phenomenon. In school his old PE teacher had to create special rules in football matches to curb his ability, often banning him from using his left foot all together and reducing his touches on the ball to just one. Most of the time the rules hardly made a difference!
He also excelled in athletics, and was clocking times of 4 min 8 secs for the 1500 m at just 15 years of age. Such was his natural ability in the athletics arena he represented Whitechurch High School in the 100 m, 200 m, 300 m, 800 m, and 1500 m, often at the same games!
It was around this time that he came to the attention of Southampton FC. The Saints are renowned for their underage development and moved heaven and earth to get the Bale family to send their son to them.
Such was Gareth Bale's determination and confidence that he would make it as a professional footballer with Southampton that he practically gave up on his studies in his GCSE year.
He really didn't have much of a choice as he travelled from Cardiff to Southampton every Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday for that entire year and to Bath every Wednesday to play with Southampton's satellite academy.
Mere days after he finished his final exam, Bale left his family home and some weeks later went on to make his debut at 16 years and 275 days against Millwall on April 21 2006.
One month later and he became the youngest ever player to represent Wales when he played in the 2-1 win over Trinidad and Tobago. That same year he also went on to represent Wales' U-17, U-19, and U-21, and became his countries youngest ever goal scorer when he hit the back of the net against Slovakia with a free-kick from the edge of the box.
He also passed every one of his GCSE exams, achieving an honour in each one.
That level of determination put him in good stead during his first two-injury laden seasons with Spurs. And since becoming a fixture in the side, the Welsh wonder has caught the eye of every major team in Europe.
Last season, Spurs had to fight off the attentions of Manchester United, Inter Milan, and Juventus with his manager Harry Redknapp saying, "There's no chance of him going. He's the future of the club." Since then, Bale has signed on the dotted line on a new four-year contract that will keep him at White Hart Lane until 2014.
There is little doubt that Bale has added another dimension to Harry Redknapp's Tottenham Hotspur. Before he broke into the team in January, most of Tottenham's attacking was done through Aaron Lennon on the right.
The phenomenally quick England winger was terrorising defences for fun before a groin strain cut his season short around the same time that Bale began making a name for himself, and all of a sudden Spurs were asking different questions of teams.
With Bale and Lennon flanking the side Spurs have, without doubt, two of the most exciting wide players in the league and are a match for any team. Their contributions to Tottenham finishing fourth and gaining entry to the Champions League cannot be underestimated.
If anything, the main argument around Bale is, where is his best position? Left-back or left midfield?
Many seem to think that he is so good going forward that he is best deployed in midfield while others think his levels of stamina are wasted in midfield and that he can do the running for two players with his attacks coming from deep.
There is little doubt, though, where Harry Redknapp see's his prodigy's future.
"His confidence is sky high, he's become an amazing player. Ashley (Cole) is fantastic. He started as a left-winger ay Arsenal and he's ended up at left-back, and this kid's the same. If he's going to be the best anywhere, I think it'll be left-back. I've got Benoit (Assou-Ekotto) who does well for me there, but in the long term..."
In either position and for the moment, Spurs have a phenomenally gifted match-winner on their books.
With William Gallas' signing undoubtedly strengthening their defence, their midfield is also a very strong area with the superb Luka Modric standing out every time he dons a jersey and an array of forward options that most clubs would die for.
Spurs are beginning to look like a team who can hold their own in the top four, and Gareth Bale was the catalyst that fired them to fourth in 2010.
If he can avoid injury, he could do it again.
This article was previously featured on Tiger Beer Football, where Willie Gannon is the featured Blogger, over 18s only.