With nine goals in his last seven games for Tottenham Hotspur FC, Gareth Bale is in the best form of his career and has almost single-handedly steered the north London club to third place in the Premier League and the UEFA Europa League round of 16, but just how good is the 23-year-old?
The former Southampton FC man has proved the difference between Tottenham and their opponents on a number of occasions this term. In February alone he got the winner at West Bromwich Albion FC, grabbed both goals in a 2-1 defeat of Newcastle United FC, hit two magnificent free-kicks to give Spurs a round of 32 first-leg lead against Olympique Lyonnais and struck a sublime clincher at West Ham United FC.
It is fitting then that fresh from scoring in Tottenham's 2-1 derby victory over Arsenal FC on Sunday, his next task is at home to FC Internazionale Milano, against whom he burst onto the European scene with two stunning displays in the 2010/11 UEFA Champions League group stage. However, the then left-winger – who claimed a hat-trick at San Siro to spark a Spurs comeback which fell just short, then gave Maicon a torrid time at White Hart Lane in laying on two of three goals in a home win – has since matured and developed into a versatile forward capable of scoring from anywhere.
"He is the difference to the team at the moment," said Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas. "He is a tremendous player and he inspires everybody. It has a direct influence on every single player when you see Gareth playing at this level." Praise for Bale has not been restricted to the coaching staff, with team-mate Scott Parker adding his approval. "Words can't describe how well he is playing," he said. "He is scoring critical goals which make headlines. When you have world-class players they step up to the fore."
Meanwhile, Spurs club captain Michael Dawson opined: "He is up there with Ronaldo and Messi in terms of ability – he's one of the best players in the world at the moment, and probably the best in the world for me right now. Some of the things he does would have made Ronaldo blush."
Bale's raw pace – he repeatedly burst past an experienced Inter defence two years ago – remains but it is now accompanied by vision, finesse and a deadly Ronaldo-style set piece that makes him a match winner in his own right. However, the PFA Player of the Year frontrunner has played down comparisons to the likes of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo and is modestly concentrating on improving his game. "I am just enjoying my football," the Welsh international said. "That is the most important thing. The team is playing well which makes things easier but it's not about me, it's about the team."
Inter stalwart Esteban Cambiasso is wary of a menacing Bale but prefers to focus on the threat the Nerazzurri will pose with their own talented squad. "At the moment he is playing at a great level and it's certainly not a surprise," the midfielder said ahead of Thursday's first leg. "He is one of the strongest players around. But we also have strong players and when I play against other teams I prefer to think about our players rather than our opponents'."
Likening him to the Spanish Liga's deadly duo might be a step too far but if Bale maintains this form until the end of the season there is no doubt that his importance to Spurs will be as great, if not greater, than Messi's to FC Barcelona or Ronaldo's to Real Madrid CF. Inter have been warned.
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