The predatory instinct, the killer touch; call it what you like, Gareth Bale has got it.
The man who flitted in and out of the Tottenham side for years after his arrival from Southampton in 2007 is now one of Europe’s premier performers.
Former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp’s influence on Bale’s career is undeniable. Taking a player who was widely recognised as a left back and transforming him into one of the most feared wingers on the planet is something Redknapp should reflect on with immense pride when he retires to his Sandbanks residence.
But if Redknapp spawned Bale the Beast, Andre Villas-Boas has created a monster. A goalscoring monster.
The potential for goals in the Welshman’s game has never been in question; you only have to cast your mind back to his breathtaking Champions League hat-trick against Inter Milan at San Siro three years ago to remind you of that.
But under the tutelage of Villas-Boas, Bale has converted that potential into currency and the 23-year-old is now taking a starring role more regularly.
Bale knows it, too, something that was underlined by the way he embraced his Portuguese manager after scoring a magical last-minute winner at West Ham on Monday night.
His strikes in the league have earned Tottenham 15 points this season. Nine goals in seven games, three braces in his last four or 23 goals for the season so far — no matter how you dress it up, the numbers are impressive. And it all stems from one balmy night last July in New Jersey, USA.
With Jermain Defoe given permission to return home from Tottenham’s pre-season tour due to a family bereavement and the signing of Emmanuel Adebayor from Manchester City still in doubt, Villas-Boas had a striker shortage ahead of the clash against New York Red Bulls.
But the ex-Chelsea boss then had his eureka moment: deciding to deploy Bale as a central striker. The rest is history.
The Wales star scored on his first start in that position, heading home Gylfi Sigurdsson’s second-half cross as Tottenham secured a 2-1 win in the Big Apple.
He could, and probably should, have had more goals that night. But Villas-Boas had seen enough.
We saw again at Upton Park on Monday just how destructive Bale can be in the danger zone. Occupying a more central role alongside Adebayor, he scored twice and created the other in a 3-2 victory that lifted his side to third in the Barclays Premier League.
Bale has developed a ruthless streak in his role as Tottenham’s middle-man; no longer is he a provider of goals for others. He’s an out-and-out finisher.
He is taking more shots per game than last season and is the only midfielder on the continent to have had more than 100 shots this season.
He is attempting fewer passes each match than he was last season, but Villas-Boas won’t care about that.
The Spurs boss is not the first to take a wide player and mould him into a centre forward. Sir Alex Ferguson used a similar ploy with Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United, often playing the Portugal star through the middle, and in doing so shifting orthodox centre forward Wayne Rooney out wide.
A more goal-hungry and lethal Bale does not bode well for Arsenal ahead of Sunday’s derby.
For so long Arsene Wenger’s squad has been the envy of north London. But the tide is turning in Tottenham’s favour.
No longer do Spurs supporters utter the words ‘I wish he played for us’ when perusing a list of Arsenal’s players. It is now Arsenal fans looking across the city at their rivals with envy.
‘Words can’t describe how well he is playing,’ said Spurs midfielder Scott Parker. ‘Tottenham as a club have been living in the shadows of Arsenal a bit.
‘Arsenal are still a top side but certainly we have narrowed the gap. We have players in our squad who Arsenal would want any day of the week.’
Indeed. But it isn’t only Arsenal who are envious.
Bale’s displays have alerted Europe’s leading clubs. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain are all positioning themselves to launch a summer swoop for his services.
How long Tottenham can hold off those predators remains to be seen, but for now they should sit back and enjoy their very own predator slaughter his prey. – Daily Mail