For many, Gareth Bale rose to stardom in the Champions League clashes with Inter Milan in 2010. Across the two legs, he made Brazilian Maicon dizzy as the footballing world watched in awe. The Welshman had talent in abundance, and he reached the apex of his time at Tottenham in the 2012/13 season.
Prior to that campaign, Bale had already won the prestigious PFA Player of Year award which came in 2011 after netting 11 league goals. But, in hindsight, he was far from realising his full potential. All that changed with the arrival Andre Villas-Boas in the summer of 2012.
“I had Gareth knocking on my door once, not crying, but he was complaining a little bit”, said the Portuguese manager in 2013. “He said he wanted me to help him to enjoy his football a little more. We had a good conversation. Hopefully, it turned out well for both of us.” It certainly did.
Villas-Boas clearly marked Bale as the star man in his side and afforded him the freedom he deserved. He was enabled to drift in from the wing, often playing on the right side using his deadly left foot to punish teams.
The Welshman began the season well and scored a memorable solo goal at Old Trafford after running past a helpless Rio Ferdinand. He netted a hattrick at Aston Villa, with all three strikes certainly worth watching. Playing for Wales in October, he completed an unbelievable performance as a penalty followed by a solo screamer, clinched a 2-1 win against Scotland in a World Cup qualifier.
Bale began a purple patch in January by scoring a stunning solo goal against Norwich City after picking up the ball on the halfway line. Two stunning free kicks clinched a 2-1 win against Lyon in the Europa League before he scored ‘that’ goal at Upton Park. Drawing 2-2 with West Ham, Bale’s looping long-range effort in the dying seconds clinched the win in the London derby. The raw celebration after the goal with Villas-Boas truly encapsulated their relation in that period.
Bale ended Spurs’ season on a bittersweet note as his wonder goal gave them a last-minute win over Sunderland at a rapturous White Hart Lane. But results elsewhere meant that a record points tally at the time was not enough to secure Champions League qualification.
Despite missing out on top four, Bale’s season will definitely go down as historical in the Spurs folklore. In the league, he recorded 21 goals and four assists, and many of those come under the category of ‘screamers’. At times he was a one-man wrecking ball for Spurs, and despite the heavy dependence on the star man, the young winger rarely failed to deliver.
Blessed with tremendous pace, strength and sheer hard work, Bale outpaced and out-muscled opponents with relative ease. His left foot could deliver a force of a gazillion units, which treated us to all those long-range strikes. An adept crosser of the ball as well, Bale’s varied game was a real treat to watch.
His performances handed him three major awards, the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, the PFA Young Player of the Year, and the FWA Footballer of the Year.
“Confidence is like the old Gary Player line: the more you practice the luckier you get”, Bale said when asked about his outstanding season. “I worked hard at my game. That free role is fantastic; you can go for a wander and try to find the space to affect games.”
It was not surprising to see Real Madrid come calling and not much blame can be attached to Bale for moving. Spurs signed seven players with the mammoth world-record fee they received from Real, but it was not enough to replace the Welsh wizard. Even if he had stayed, matching the 2012/13 exploits would have been a daunting task.
That season from Bale was not just a young talent maturing into a star. It was a solo performance for nine months which was as good as any the Premier League has ever seen. The Spurs winger did not just earn affection from home fans but from footballing fans around the world. Any game that Bale was involved in that year had fans expecting a moment of sheer brilliance from one of the finest talents to have been produced in the Premier League.