25th November, 2010
Barely a year ago, Gareth Bale could not buy a win for Tottenham. Now there is not a single Spurs fan who would sell the Welsh wonder for any money.
And while Bale has stayed remarkably calm at the centre of the storm of excitement that is swirling round him, the 21-year-old admitted that life in the spotlight is still taking some getting used to.
If anybody thought Baleâ€™s second-half hat-trick in the San Siro last month would prove the high mark of his career, they were proven wrong within a matter of weeks as he rampaged past Lucio, Maicon Douglas and Co for a second time at White Hart Lane.
Baleâ€™s brilliance was the catalyst for the sort of night they have been dreaming of for decades, an evening of footballing magic that catapulted the softly-spoken kids from Whitchurch into the global consciousness.
Others, easily led astray, might have been seduced by the sudden onset of fame, the links with the top dogs of Serie A and La Liga, the enticing eyes from Chelsea and Manchester United.
And if there was any suspicion that he might become carried away and starry-eyed, it only takes a few words for the reassurances to be taken at face value.
Bale said: â€œWhatâ€™s important for me now, above everything, is to make sure I enjoy every second.
â€œIâ€™ve been able to stay calm because, for a while when I wasnâ€™t getting in the team, I was taking it for granted I wouldnâ€™t be playing.
â€œWhen I came to Spurs and picked up an injury just after I arrived at the club it felt like the worst thing ever.
â€œNow Iâ€™m back playing I realise how much I just love the game and donâ€™t want to take it for granted. So now I am in the side I want to enjoy it.
â€œI feel the key to playing well is to keep everything in balance, which Iâ€™ve tried to do. I donâ€™t want to get carried away and hopefully there is more to come as well.â€
While Baleâ€™s talents were long documented , Spurs fought off United and Arsenal to sign him from Southampton, his early problems at White Hart Lane were equally chronicled.
Not just the ankle ligament injury that cost his six months of his career or the problems that dogged him subsequently a series of absences that seemed to follow every slightly mis-timed tackle but also, of course that incredible record of 24 Premier League appearances, spread over three seasons, before finally being on a winning Spurs side.
â€œThat statistic didnâ€™t really affect me at all,â€ Bale insisted as he spoke at BTâ€™s Back the Bid dinner at the BT Tower. â€œI didnâ€™t pay any attention to it. The people around me kept on saying â€˜keep working; itâ€™s not your fault that youâ€™re not winning the gamesâ€™.
â€œEverybody had belief that I could turn the corner and all I had to do was keep working hard and driving forward. I just had to stay in there. Thankfully I did that, it did that and Iâ€™m happy thatâ€™s behind us now. I just kept believing in myself.â€
A belief that is shared by his team-mates now, as is the prospect of Spurs making Harry Redknappâ€™s prediction that his side can be in the title shake-up come true, especially in the wake of the weekendâ€™s Lazarus-like comeback against their most bitter rivals.
Bale added: â€œAfter Saturdayâ€™s result we believe we can win the title more now than ever. It has definitely given us more belief.
â€œYou look at the results all season, Chelsea losing games and coming back to the rest, seemingly every team beating every other team and we really feel we can be in the mix now.
â€œHopefully weâ€™re going to be able to put a good run together and push ourselves up there.â€
Bale knows that, in all reality, the Champions League represents the likely summit of his footballing experiences, which is why he had urged the FA of Wales to back down from their current stance and agree to allow Welsh players, including the Spurs star, to feature in a Great Britain side at the London 2012 Olympics.
A final decision by the Home Nations, fearful of losing their individual status, is due next month but Bale pleaded: â€œI feel the Olympics would be a great opportunity for a young player like me to play in a major tournament.
â€œLook, Iâ€™m Welsh and we all know Wales donâ€™t tend to qualify for too many.