Only nine months ago, any comparison Gareth Bale might have drawn between his own career and that of Cristiano Ronaldo would have been politely ignored and the subject swiftly changed. But it is testament to the progress that the hottest young property in British football has made over the year that when he did so yesterday no one blinked.
Bale was the star turn yesterday at White Hart Lane ahead of tonight's Champions League game against Internazionale, speaking to a room full of Italian journalists who have been writing their own profiles of the Welsh winger since his hat-trick at San Siro two weeks ago. It catapulted the 21-year-old from being the most talked about player in the Premier League to being one of the most talked about players in Europe.
The comparison with Ronaldo came when Bale was asked how he will cope with the extra attention on the pitch that his growing reputation has earned him. There is no chance that a coach as shrewd as Rafael Benitez will allow Bale to inflict as much damage on his team as he did in Italy without trying every trick in the book to try to stop him, which will surely involve more than one marker every time he gets the ball.
"Obviously teams are trying to stop me in a way, and obviously I've got to think of other ways to get past them," Bale said. "I'm going to have to keep learning in training and in games and try things and hopefully improve as a player which will allow me to do that [continue to thrive].
"And I think with all the world-class players these days, the likes of Ronaldo, teams double up on him all the time and he still finds a way. And, I think, as a player, you've got to keep trying to improve your game and make it an all-round game to kind of be unstoppable."
Unstoppable is quite an ambition for any young player but there were times, in the second half at San Siro on 20 October, when that was exactly what Bale was as he ran time and again at Maicon, the right-back voted the best in the Champions League last season. Because Spurs have proved to be a selling club in the past the conversation – especially with Inter and their acquisitive president Massimo Moratti in town – immediately turned to how much Bale will cost.
"I don't take much notice of what's going on in the media," Bale said. "I just want to keep playing for Tottenham and working on my game. I'm learning every day, week in, week out."
Bale is still a reserved, slightly reluctant public speaker, but with every commanding performance it is obvious that he feels more confident in his opinion. He is careful when it comes to appraising opponents too, effusive about the Inter right-back Maicon whom he ran ragged in the late stages of the game at San Siro. But he has a lively personality that will be emboldened as his achievements become greater.
The appearance of Bale was the calm endpoint after another whirlwind performance from Harry Redknapp who dived straight back into the debate over Mark Clattenburg. Having declared that the episode was "history", Redknapp went over it in detail, responding to the Football Association over their putative charges in a way that only he can.
The Spurs manager was in one of his edgy moods ahead of what could be a momentous game at White Hart Lane when the European champions roll in tonight. Within the space of a few minutes Redknapp was raging against the FA, flirting with a female Italian television reporter and joking that someone on the front row looked like Rafael Benitez's son.
It is not just the Clattenburg saga that seems to have got Redknapp so skittish. He knows he is up against one of the master tacticians in Benitez tonight and also that he has a Spurs team that, by his own admission, is set up to attack. It has made for great entertainment but it does leave them vulnerable and Redknapp knows that.
Having on Saturday all but dismissed Rafael van der Vaart's chances of starting tonight it now seems that the Dutchman has made a miraculous recovery from his injury at Old Trafford. "The key will be ripping into them on the flanks," Redknapp said. "We need Bale to get the better of Maicon again. Then you have Lennon on the other side. I think they can be the key.
"There is a feeling that attack is the best form of defence for us. We are an open team, and I don't have any options other than to pick an attacking team. Look at my midfield. We have [Tom] Huddlestone, [Luka] Modric, Bale, Lennon, Van der Vaart and Crouchie. Unless I leave Modric out the team and play Wilson Palacios I can't thicken it up.
"I have two wingers that have to play and for me there is not a team that I can pick which is defensive. It might make it a wild ride for everybody, but we are at home and I don't see another way of doing it."
Inter have a few injury problems of their own. Most notably the goalkeeper Julio Cesar is injured, which means a first-ever Champions League start for the 35-year-old Luca Castellazzi. Esteban Cambiasso and Dejan Stankovic are out and Diego Milito is still a doubt. But that still leaves a team who can do Spurs serious damage if, as Redknapp found to his cost at San Siro in the first half, his team allow them to do so.
Three key clashes
Gareth Bale v Maicon
The Brazilian full-back will still be having nightmares about Bale's terrorising second-half performance at San Siro 13 days ago. However, Inter manager Rafa Benitez likes to deploy defensive midfielder Javier Zanetti to cover at right-back to allow Maicon to surge forward, but don't besurprised if the two worriedly double up on Bale.
Luka Modric v Sulley Muntari
The former Portsmouth midfielder Muntari, who Harry Redknapp will know well from his time as manager of the club, will hope to stop the tricky Modric asserting his influence on the game. The powerful Muntari will try to close down Modric quickly, as the playmaker has the ability to dictate the tempo of the game. He has a point to prove having been on the field for just 11 minutes at the game at San Siro after being taken off for Cudicini.
Alan Hutton v Coutinho
The talented 18-year-old Coutinho has impressed in the Champions League this season, and caught the eye with some dazzling footwork in the last game against Spurs. The recently capped Brazilian likes float in from the left and take on his marker, meaning Hutton will have to stick closely to the winger to limit his time on the ball and impact.Reuse content