Harry Redknapp sees Gareth Bale becoming great left-back
Such is the hype which surrounds English football that in the space of two games Gareth Bale has in some quarters already been elevated into the stratosphere of the world's great current players, alongside Xavi, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Two games? It was not so long ago that it required at least two seasons of performing on a higher plane to deserve such plaudits.
There is no denying Bale has deserved all the acclaim he received in England and, indeed, Italy for his superb performance in Tottenham's 3-1 Champions League victory over Inter Milan in London on Tuesday night, two weeks after he stunned the San Siro with a second-half hat-trick in their 4-3 loss to Inter.
The exhilarating manner of his attacking performance on the left flank, which inspired Spurs and left Inter's Maicon (often acclaimed as the world's best right-back) looking very ordinary, was something of a throwback to an era when uncomplicated flying wingers who based their game on breakneck pace and precision crossing were common figures in most top teams.
In a sense that is why Bale's display was so jaw-dropping and has suddenly seen him linked with big-money moves to many of Europe's biggest clubs. This, just 12 months after a lack of confidence and a string of injuries left him unable to get into the Tottenham team.
Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, who himself was a winger in his playing days but who lacked Bale's last-ball composure, is adamant that Tottenham will keep Bale as the club seek to re-establish themselves among Europe's elite for the first time in three decades.
Despite the dashing style of the 21-year-old winger, Redknapp believes his strongest position will be at left-back.
"In the long term I eventually see Gareth dropping back and playing at left-back where he can be one of the best, if not the best," he said.
"That may sound a bit strange to some people at the moment, especially after the brilliant way he has played against Inter, and because we are very strong down the left side at the moment, especially with Benoit Assou Ekotto at left-back."
Thus, a position switch by Bale is not imminent, the coach said.
"One of Gareth's main assets is the way he uses his fantastic pace to run at defenders and tear them apart as he did against Inter," Redknapp said. "You need space in front of you to do that, though, and often when you play further forward on the left of midfield that space can become more easily closed down or other players can get across and block.
"That can be harder when a player like Gareth is coming from deep, a bit like Ashley Cole does. Obviously, Gareth started out as left-back, anyway. He can defend very well, too. Yes, I still think he could end up at left-back."
The pressure will be on Bale now to prove he can perform on a regular basis at the high level he showed on Tuesday, starting with today's match at Bolton Wanderers.
4.45pm Abu Dhabi Sports 3
Birmingham City v West Ham United
Cutting out the mistakes is the objective that Alex McLeish has set for his Birmingham side ahead of their encounter with basement team West Ham today. McLeish’s men are 15th in the table, and he said: “There have been some self-inflicted things which have been unlike us.” Birmingham will give defender Roger Johnson a late fitness test on his injured ankle, while West Ham hope to have Matthew Upson available following a hamstring problem.
7pm Abu Dhabi Sports 4
Blackburn Rovers v Wigan Athletic
Sam Allardyce believes Blackburn’s poor home form is the cause for their lowly status in the league table. Blackburn are third from the bottom and have won only once at Ewood Park this season. Ahead of today’s home game with Wigan, Allardyce, the Blackburn manager, said: “On the level of performance we are in a false position in the table but one we have to accept is our own fault. Home form and a clean-sheet mentality is deserting us.”
7pm Abu Dhabi Sports 8
Blackpool v Everton
Everton’s Leon Osman faces a further six weeks on the sidelines after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle. Osman has been out since limping off at half-time during the Merseyside derby victory over Liverpool on October 17.
David Moyes, the Everton coach, is also expected to be without Jack Rodwell for today’s trip to Blackpool, because of his ankle injury. Said Moyes: “We may include him on the bench but I don’t think he is quite ready yet.”
7pm Abu Dhabi Sports 7
Fulham v Aston Villa
Mark Hughes, the Fulham manager, wants his side to turn good displays into victories. ”Performance-wise we’ve been fine but results-wise we want more points on the board,” said Hughes, whose men have won only twice in the league this season. Damien Duff and Dickson Etuhu have recovered from injuries and are available for Fulham today. Aston Villa will be without the strikers Emile Heskey and John Carew, who have picked up injuries.
7pm Abu Dhabi Sports 3
Sunderland v Stoke City
Asamoah Gyan will make his first league start for Sunderland today as Steve Bruce looks for his side to bounce back from last week’s 5-1 hammering at Newcastle. Bruce said of his decision to start the man he signed from Rennes in the summer for £13 million (Dh77.4m): “It’s a response to what happened last week. Our Achilles heel is we haven’t scored enough, so I just think it is right, after what has happened this week, that we give the kid his chance.”
7pm Abu Dhabi Sports 9
Updated: November 6, 2010 04:00 AM