Three years ago, few people would claim to have known much about Gareth Bale. Yet the Welshman, now 22, has overcome the odds to become one of the brightest stars in world football.
With the ball at his feet, the winger cum left-back is truly exciting to watch. His versatility, lightning-quick runs down the flanks, quick dribbles, high work rate and a powerful left foot—arguably the best in the business— make him a complete player.
Standing at 6 feet tall, Bale isn’t the tallest of players, but the Welshman is decent in the air, too, and occasionally pops up with an out-of-nowhere headed goal.
Bale began his career at championship side Southampton. On April 17, 2006, then aged 16 years and 275 days old, he made his first competitive appearance for the Saints, becoming the second-youngest Southampton player of all time—after current Arsenal star Theo Walcott. He went on to make 45 appearances for Southampton, scoring five times.
In May 2007, Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur came calling and Bale joined the North Londoners for an initial £5 million fee, signing a four-year deal. In his first three seasons, however, things didn’t go according to his plans. He struggled with injuries and form, and would find first-team opportunities hard to come by.
Bale would even go on to hold an unwanted record of playing 24 Premier League games without being on the winning side. It was only in the mid-to-latter stages of the 2009-10 season that Bale’s full potential was realized. When regular left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto sustained an injury, it was Bale who was given the opportunity to stand in for the Cameroonian, and the rest is history. The Welshman made the left-back berth his own, although he was pushed forward upon the return of Assou-Ekotto.
Bale’s most successful season would be in the 2010-11 campaign; with his memorable displays coming in Spurs’ Champions League two-legged showdown against then-European champions Inter Milan. In the first leg at the San Siro, with the North London side trailing 4-0 and looking down and out, Bale tore the Nerazzurri’s backline apart and scored a spectacular late hat trick to end the encounter at 4-3.
He was just as effective in the return leg at White Hart Lane, providing two well-worked assists for Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko, earning Tottenham a well-deserved 3-1 win and qualification for the knockout stage at the expense of the Italian giants.
Despite not being as impressive this season, Bale has been pivotal in leading the Spurs’ quest for a probable third-place finish in the Premier League. This term he has so far netted 10 times for his club, nine in the league and once in the Europa League. He also has eight assists to his name.
That is by no means a bad return for a wide-man. Internationally, he has 33 caps for Wales, scoring six times in the process. His individual accolades include the PFA Player of the Year award (for the 2010-11 season), Barclays Premier League Player of the Month (for April 2010 and January 2012), Welsh Player of the Year (for 2010 and 2011) and numerous man-of-the-match awards.
His ability has even drawn comparison to Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi. But does the Tottenham star have the potential to match the Argentinian?
Absolutely. While the Barcelona forward is clearly in a league of his own, for a player as young and talented as Bale, the sky is the limit.
Bale’s emergence as a top player has not gone unnoticed, at least not for top European club managers. In the last summer transfer window, several newspaper reports linked him with big-money moves away from White Hart Lane. Chelsea, Inter Milan and Barcelona remain admirers of the wing wizard.
And if the Wales international maintains his form and fitness, it may get increasingly harder for Spurs boss Harry Redknapp to hold on to his prize asset come May.