London - Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the two best players in world football, but Gareth Bale is the heir to the throne. There is no doubt he can be the best player on the planet in five years’ time.
What Bale has achieved in his first season at Real Madrid is nothing short of sensational. To go to a new club, a new country and an entirely new culture and perform as he has done is remarkable.
He was not at his best on Saturday night but big players change games and that’s exactly what he’s done. He scored a wonder goal to win the Copa del Rey last month and made the crucial breakthrough in extra time in the Champions League.
He wasted some good chances in Lisbon but if you want an indicator of the impact he had, just look at Filipe Luis. The Atletico Madrid left back has been excellent but he won’t have run as hard all season.
By the end of the game he was on the floor with cramp. That’s what happens when you spend your evening chasing Gareth Bale’s shadow.
Explosive pace has always been Bale’s primary weapon, but now he is the complete player. His raw speed makes him so hard to defend against but it’s his technique at high speed that now sets him apart.
He can play anywhere across the front, score with his left or right foot and with his head. He has a fantastic leap and he showed it by being in the right place at the right time to score against Atletico.
The frightening thing is he is still learning the game. Playing alongside and studying Ronaldo, he can only get better.
Bale is so strong in the air but imagine if he attacked crosses with the same aggression as Ronaldo - he could be impossible to stop.
I remember seeing him play in the Southampton youth team when I was at the club. Most of the talk then was about a young Theo Walcott, but there was also a dark-haired kid who was a pretty handy left back.
He was very shy but once he came out of his shell it did not take long to realise you were in the presence of somebody special.
It was the same at Tottenham when he started to play further forward and was shredding defences for fun. That shy young left back has transformed into quite a man.
Bale now has the world at his feet but he remains that rarest of things: a humble superstar. I’m sure if he wanted to whip his shirt off and celebrate Ronaldo-style he’d look just as good, but that’s not how he is.
He is just a lovely kid and is the exception to those who say you need a mean streak to succeed in football.
When you watch him play, you can still see the wonder in his eyes as if he’s thinking: ‘Blimey, I’m playing for Real Madrid.’ That is every football fan’s dream but he’s not just playing for Madrid, he’s starring for them.
When he made the move last summer, I was full of admiration. Playing for a club like Real is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it takes a lot of courage to move abroad and plenty have failed in the past. Bale’s debut season has been like a fairytale.
Ronaldo was 24 when he moved to Madrid and he scored 33 goals in his opening season, 11 more than Bale. But there is one big difference between the two: Ronaldo won nothing whereas Bale has two trophies to his name. Expectations at Real Madrid are always sky-high, but that is some way to announce yourself.
It’s just a shame we are unlikely to see Bale play at his peak in a World Cup because, make no mistake, he has everything needed to become the best player in the world.