The journey

Doesn't take much to sit back and daydream about Gareth Bale's astonishing hattrick away to Inter and his demolition in the second leg at the Lane. He came of age. The potential positively simmering in a cauldron of pulsating pace and complete lack of fear. Arguably he was an unknown entity for most of the continent. The Premier League, in time, was wise to the fact that if you want to stop him you're going to have to double mark him. Sometimes treble mark him. Foul him. Hack him.

Add to it the variety of class defenders that he would need to acquire a particular set of skills to be able to circumnavigate their lunging feet and shoulder barges. A learning curve that will take him on a journey from almost being loaned to Forest to labelled a £60M transfer prospect.

I remember that (early) period of time very well, mainly because of the dumbed down reactions to his 'lack of impact' in the league post-Inter ties. Patience and the necessity to play the long game (in terms of development) bypassed for cheap shots citing him as 'over-rated'. There's no switch to be flicked that sees you change overnight. A journey takes time and endeavour.

If this season has proved anything, Bale's progression hasn't just been about his own personal development and understanding of the game as an individual but also the role he has to play in the team and how the team is set up to allow the player to influence.

There have been a variety of superbly written articles in the past few weeks explaining Andre Villas-Boas training methodology and paying homage to how he's allowed Bale to grow further in statue in a central position (with occasional roaming to the flanks). All the talk about a 'one man team' when the reality is that this is a team that allows that one man to do as much damage as he cares to throttle at the opposing side. Without his team-mates, Bale's licence to kill is revoked. Why would we not set ourselves up to make sure we utilise the power and match-winning abilities of our most outstanding offensive player?

Harry Redknapp began Bale's move to a more central role to combat the issues of isolation out on the left-wing. Some bemoaned the fact we were losing out here and that Bale was wasted and lost when running through the middle, with little joy coming from the left because of it. When you're in the midst of change, it can be perceived as frustrating and rarely fruitful, but it's an essential sacrifice for the player to move up a level as a footballer. He had to experience and play through the games where his influence was muted. He has to work out for himself the best way to deal with the fouls and the fights with gravity. Too clichéd to say he had to find himself? It is a journey after all.

Bale's confidence and belief in his football is testament to the fact that the he's attained that extra level and now it's really up to him and his coach to push him up another level and continue the momentum.


He's a far more complete player and he also gives Tottenham a more robust, difficult to defend outlet of attack. It's probably because he's our main source of goals that there's this superficial reliance on him having to play for us to be able to score. In some ways because of the lack of that much maligned deep-lying playmaker and world class centre-forward. Add those two in (just dream) and then the reliance softens.

Bale and others will no doubt have more assists (how many times does Bale cross and you think damn if only someone got on the end of that?) and the manner in which we craft and create goal scoring opportunities will increase because of the balance in midfield a truly creative spark would bring. As a consequence, Bale would probably find time for more expressive football. Although taking into account how AVB sets us up, there are clearly very direct incisive instructions given to players in how to position, play and attack space. Say for example the goals scored against Arsenal, scripted from the Villas-Boas notebook of 'how to use the high-line to beat the high-line'.

As attractive and free-flowing our football was under Redknapp, there lacked a cutting edge. Not necessarily one concerning goals scored but a general astuteness in how to shape up against teams and how to change shape depending on teams. We've lost that sexy swagger in part but we have raised the level of resolve and have a bullish professionalism about how we look to take each game on.

Yes, it's not always perfect and yes sometimes we ride our luck. It's not only Bale on a journey of discovery. Add his team-mates and AVB to the list of backpackers.

A fair chunk of Bale's goals are scored out of nothing, but again, this goes back to the fact the team allow the space and time for the player to believe he can take advantage. Tempo of possession, tempo without the ball. The mental strength in the final 10 minutes of games. The organisation at the back. Granted the midfield is still without equilibrium but players play for each other and play for the team. Those fabled training sessions that seek to improve concentration and focus is a science not to be scoffed at. The fact our players have accepted these ways and the team spirit has improved tenfold again says plenty of good about true man-management at play.

It's taken us, well, 3/4 of the season to get where we are. Add those missing transfer pieces along with the return of the injured players and another half season of training and competitive games and this team will be twice as good as it is now. That's a scary thought. For everyone else.

I'm absolutely buzzing that we get another chance to match-up with a side of such esteemed history once more. This might not be the Champions League, but you have to think like a champion if you want to stand alongside them.

Gareth Bale has grown up since those two iconic Inter games. So has Tottenham Hotspur.