All hail Bale after Tottenham winger crushes Inter
LONDON (AP) -Gareth Bale's performances against Inter Milan have taken Tottenham to the brink of the knockout rounds in its first season in the Champions League, and the English club now has to make sure he is still there if it makes it.
The Wales winger's man-of-the-match performance in Tuesday's 3-1 win over Inter Milan put Spurs in a great position to reach the next round but also showed Europe's powerhouses just how valuable he is.
"He's just amazing, amazing,'' said former Inter winger Luis Figo, FIFA's 2001 player of the year. "He killed us twice.''
Bale tore apart the defending champion's defense for the second straight match, setting up two goals and eliminating Inter's Maicon - reputedly the world's best right back - so often that the home fans jubilantly chanted for a taxi to whisk the Brazilian away from the scene of his humiliation.
Allied to Bale's hat trick in a 4-3 loss at Inter two weeks ago, the victory took Tottenham above Inter by virtue of a superior head-to-head record to the top of Group A with two matches left.
"You have to put it into perspective,'' Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said. "Many people rate Maicon as the best right back in the world but he has given him the most torrid time you would ever wish to see.
"And when Figo says that, he must be a fantastic footballer.''
Italy's newspapers lauded Bale's performance in handing Inter its first defeat in the Champions League this season.
Corriere dello Sport said "Bale flattens Inter,'' while Turin sports daily Tuttosport featured the headline: "Frightening Bale. He sweeps away Inter.''
"It wasn't easy to stop him and even Maicon had problems,'' Inter coach Rafa Benitez said. "We should have handled the situation better, but we didn't and we left Bale too much space.''
British newspapers have linked clubs including Manchester United, Inter and Barcelona to Bale, who only sealed his place in the Tottenham side this year when Redknapp switched him from left back to the wing.
But Bale signed a new four-year contract in May and Redknapp said he is happy at Tottenham, unconcerned by the trappings of wealth flaunted by so many other players.
"I gave Gareth four days off last week because I thought he needed a break and I told him to go abroad,'' Redknapp said. "He did. He went to Cardiff to his mum's. That's him all over.
"He doesn't need to go anywhere else to play his football. He needs to stay here.''
And Bale doesn't seem to be looking for a move elsewhere.
"I'm just trying to keep my feet on the ground, work hard in training and do well in games and enjoy my football,'' Bale said. "I'm happy at the moment.''
Bale's performances against Inter were his best since joining Tottenham three years ago, but he has been doing the same to defenses all over England for the past 10 months.
Bale joined Tottenham at 17 from Southampton - where he had been teammates with Theo Walcott - for 5 million pounds ($8 million) but endured a frustrating start to his north London career.
Although he scored three times in his first four starts, a series of injuries stymied his progress and he played 24 league games over two years before finally featuring on a winning side in his 25th.
He had become a regular substitute until Redknapp picked him for an FA Cup match in January and he performed well enough to keep his place even when regular left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto was fit again.
Redknapp pushed Bale forward onto the left wing, allowing him to attack without having to think so much about the defensive aspect of his game.
Bale has kept his searing pace despite gaining a more robust physique that allowed him to shrug off opponents as well as niggling injuries.
He rounded off sweeping moves to score in successive wins over London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea in April to help Tottenham clinch fourth place in the Premier League, and has begun this season even more strongly.
Bale scored a spectacular head-high volley in a 2-1 win over Stoke in August and then led 10-man Tottenham's recovery from 4-0 down at Inter to a more respectable 4-3 margin.
"He's got everything,'' Redknapp said. "He's got great ability. It's not just his pace, he can run all day, and keep running. He's got the ability to cross, his left foot is great on the run, he can shoot, dribble, head it.
"He's also a great lad. You couldn't meet a nicer, lower-maintenance boy than him. He just comes in and plays his football.''
Italian papers speculated that clubs could tempt Tottenham into selling Bale with an offer of about ?25 million ($35 million), but Spurs don't want to let him go - especially when victory over Werder Bremen on Nov. 24 can seal the club's progress to the knockout stage in its first appearance in the competition since 1962 .
"The people who own Tottenham are not poor people,'' Redknapp said. "They don't need to sell him.''