FourFourTwo's James Maw delves into the archives to find Gareth Bale's 'Sliding Doors' moment...
You'll by now be well aware that Gareth Bale has completed a world record move to Real Madrid, and if you've been on the internet at any stage during the last few months, you'll also know that Bale was reportedly close to leaving Tottenham for a far more humble fee back in 2009.
Fortunately for Tottenham and the man himself (as well as a presumably by now rather embarrassed Harry Redknapp, if the claims are accurate), he remained at White Hart Lane long enough to become arguably the Premier League's most highly-rated player. But even earlier in his career, Bale had another close shave.
Speaking to FFT back in April 2007, former Southampton youth director Malcolm Elias explained that Bale was once 90 minutes away from not even earning a scholarship with the Hampshire club.
"There were doubts over Gareth among the coaches at Southampton," Elias explained. "At under-15 and under-15 level he never got a look-in with the Wales Schools side, but like a lot of players at that age he had growth spurts which affected his co-ordination.
"We were undecided about giving him a scholarship so I went to the game at Norwich with the sole intention of making a decision.
"Gareth was unaware of the situation and he played out of his skin. It was his first game for the under-18 side but he convinced us he could handle it. His progress has been unbelievable."
That progress has, of course, continued unabated over the last six years. The interview was part of a profile on Bale in FFT's '50 Best Players in the Football League' feature. The Welsh wonder - a player some pundits now deem the third best in the world behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - finished third in the FFT run-down. He was bettered only by West Brom midfielder Jason Koumas and Preston striker David Nugent.
Elias, now Head of Talent ID and Recruitment at Fulham, also explained how Bale would regularly travel from his family's home in South Wales to Southampton's 'satellite academy' in Bath, as well as making weekly trips down to the South Coast.
"That tells you everything about the boy and his family," Elias said. "He had to take a day off school, travel down on his own, then catch up with schoolwork once he got back to Wales. He was spending two nights a week at Bath before playing there on a Saturday, at a time when other boys his age had already been handed their contracts."
The likelihood is that the aforementioned determination would have seen Bale reach the game's summit, even if he had been let go, his route to the top would've been quite different.