As the football world goes Bale-barmy, Richard Edwards speaks to the former head of Sports Science at Southampton to find out whether the Spurs superstarlet was always destined for greatness
Luis Figo has never really stood out as being someone prone to spontaneous outbursts of praise, so when the suave Portuguese maestro turned round at the end of a Champions League drubbing and labelled one of the opposition 'amazingÃ¢ÂÂ, you knew that something pretty extraordinary had just happened. And it had.
Gareth Bale had just made one of the worldÃ¢ÂÂs best defenders look faintly ridiculous for the second time in a matter of weeks, while the eveningÃ¢ÂÂs final humiliation belonged to Lucio Ã¢ÂÂ the giant Brazilian Ã¢ÂÂ who was left flailing (as if hailing MaiconÃ¢ÂÂs taxi) as the 21-year-old superstar breezed past him to set up SpursÃ¢ÂÂ third goal in a White Hart Lane glory night.
What makes BaleÃ¢ÂÂs rise from supposed also-ran to global superstar all the more remarkable is the fact that not too long ago he was seen as a bad luck charm for Spurs, the club he joined from Southampton in the summer of 2007.
He didnÃ¢ÂÂt actually play in a winning Spurs side in the Premier League for two years and there was even talk of him leaving the club on loan as he struggled to settle in North London. All that, of course, is long forgotten and now the talk in North London isnÃ¢ÂÂt of losing streaks but of the Champions League knock-out stages.
So what has turned Bale into the hottest property in world football? The Guardian has suspicions that it could have something to do with the black v-shaped strapping running down each of his thighs (apparently itÃ¢ÂÂs called Kinesio). Others, meanwhile, put it down to Harry Redknapp pushing the player forward from his traditional left-back role.
FFT, though, is reliably informed that itÃ¢ÂÂs down to something else Ã¢ÂÂ two rather dull little words that should give players everywhere hope. Hard work.
"You distract him, I'll bring the team bus to the main entrance..."
Yesterday we spoke to Paul Balsom, a man who has worked with some of the biggest names in European football Ã¢ÂÂ Henrik Larsson and Freddie Ljungberg among them - during his time as performance manager of the Swedish national side.
He was also at Southampton around the time that Bale was making that notoriously tricky transition from youth team starlet to first team regular.
According to Balsom, Bale showed glimpses of the ability that had FigoÃ¢ÂÂs heart-racing earlier in the week but certainly gave no indication that he could blossom into a player that would have EuropeÃ¢ÂÂs top clubs salivating at the prospect of wrestling him from TottenhamÃ¢ÂÂs grasp.
Even more astonishingly he claimed that he wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt have bet on Bale cleaning up over 100m at the clubÃ¢ÂÂs Staplewood training ground.
But while Bale continues to rip up trees he did give a telling insight into just what makes this ordinary lad from Cardiff, well, so extraordinary.
Ã¢ÂÂEverything he did he did with the ball and itÃ¢ÂÂs all about timing Ã¢ÂÂ he has got his timing right and his attitude has always been spot on,Ã¢ÂÂ says Balsom.
Ã¢ÂÂA lot of footballers can run fast but not many can run so quickly with the ball at their feet. He doesnÃ¢ÂÂt give the ball away, he knows when to play it simple and knows when to go. Every time he crosses the ball it goes into the box.
Ã¢ÂÂHe was more out than in during his first year at the club but he has got where he has got to by getting his head down and keeping it simple.Ã¢ÂÂ
And after making MaiconÃ¢ÂÂs life exceptionally complicated at White Hart Lane, full backs across Europe will be quaking in their boots.