Less than a year ago, 28 months after joining Tottenham, Gareth Bale had still not been on a winning side in the Premier League in 24 attempts. Harry Redknapp, savouring the one-time Jonah's two-goal flourish at Stoke, admitted the run became "a burden" for him, let alone the player. "Sir Alex Ferguson said, 'How can you pick him? I couldn't do it'," he recalled. "I'm superstitious, so it was difficult."
On Wednesday, when Spurs confront a 3-2 deficit in the Champions League qualifier against Young Boys of Berne, Bale will be among the first names on the team sheet. How had the Welshman, a friend and former Southampton colleague of Saturday's other 21-year-old wonder, Theo Walcott, been transformed from a walking jinx into someone Redknapp called "an amazing player"?
"He's just grown up," the Spurs manager said. "When I first came, Gareth always seemed to be limping off the training ground every time he got touched. He was still a baby and whenever he got a knock, he'd go off, then be all right again in five minutes. He realised he had to be tougher mentally if he was going to make it in the Premier League. He's done that."
Asked how he had helped to foster Bale's new-found resilience, Redknapp's reply echoed Brian Clough's claim that telling Roy McFarland to "get yer hair cut" was coaching at the highest level. "I just said, 'Stop messing about with your hair' – all good tactical stuff! He's come on in leaps and bounds. Now he's as good as anything around and you couldn't put a value on him. Almost any club in the world would want to buy him. In fact, I know they would."
Bale tormented Stoke from an advanced wide-left position, scoring one goal when Ryan Shawcross's goal-line clearance hit him in the face and another with a volley that drew on world-class technique. Redknapp, however, believes that, in the long term, he will follow the Ashley Cole route from winger to full-back because he likes to have the whole game spread out before him.
"He played there against Benfica recently and I've not seen a performance like it. He kept running from deep in our half, crossing from their byline, then getting back. In the second half here, [Robert] Huth got on top of him, got tighter, and it was difficult to get the ball. It's a hard place to play. From left-back, it's all in front of him. I can't think of a better left-sided British player," Redknapp said.
"That foot is amazing, he can run all day and head it too. He's 6ft 2in. The kid's got everything."
Looking ahead to White Hart Lane's first taste of Europe's premier competition in 48 years, Redknapp relished the prospect of taking the game to their Swiss opponents on grass, arguing that Uefa should ban the kind of plastic pitch which he said had cost him the services of five players in the Potteries. Jermain Defoe has the best chance of being fit to face Young Boys, although he will not train until tomorrow, while Robbie Keane and Roman Pavlyuchenko are both struggling to be fit.
"It will be a difficult game," Redknapp said, aware of the folly of assuming that the job was done in the recovery from 3-0 down in Switzerland. "But we're good at home and I think we've got a great chance. We'll get after them early, we won't sit back because the longer it goes, the better it is for them obviously. They got a good result [in the previous qualifying round] at Fenerbahce and they're not bad, but we've got good players."
Stoke, meanwhile, have nothing on the board after two games. The basic nature of Ricardo Fuller's equaliser gave them hope – even after being out-passed and out-thought in the first half – of exposing Spurs' defensive vulnerability after half-time. The pressure came – and with it, they thought, a last-gasp goal by Jon Walters – but the referee Chris Foy, having missed Huth's blatant shove on Heurelho Gomes, also failed to spot that the former Ipswich man's header had crossed the line.
Gallas signs one-year deal
William Gallas will become the first player to have appeared in the league for London rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham following his move across north London yesterday.
Spurs confirmed that he had signed a one-year deal. The former Arsenal captain, 33 last Tuesday, has become only the 14th player to move from Arsenal to Spurs in almost a century.
Stoke City 4-4-2: Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Faye, Collins; Delap (Sidibe, 85; Tonge, 88), Whitehead, Whelan (Tuncay, 63), Etherington; Walters, Fuller. Substitutes not used Begovic (gk), Higginbotham, Pugh, Wilkinson.
Booked Whitehead, Shawcross, Fuller.
Tottenham Hotspur 4-5-1: Gomes; Corluka, Dawson, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Walker, 87), Palacios, Jenas, Huddlestone, Bale; Crouch. Substitutes not used Alnwick (gk), Naughton, Bassong, Kranjcar, Rose, Livermore.
Possession Stoke 48% Tottenham 52%.
Shots on target Stoke 11, Tottenham 6.
Referee C Foy (Merseyside) Attendance 27,243.
Man of the match Bale.
Match rating 8/10.