How Bale transformed himself from being a jinx into world-beater
Published 25/06/2016 | 02:30
It seems incredible now, but it was not so long ago that Alex Ferguson was advising me not to play Gareth Bale at Tottenham because he was never on a winning side.
Gareth had that horrendous statistic hanging round his neck of not winning a game, which ultimately stretched to 24 games, when we went to play Manchester United at Old Trafford.
After the game, Alex said to me: "Bloody hell, Harry, it must be difficult for you to put him on the field."
Alex was big on superstitions and I am still not sure to this day whether he was joking or not, but it was clearly a huge topic.
It was not a nice thing for Gareth to deal with and it must have affected him. Whether he started the game or came off the bench, Spurs did not win, and it became a bit of a joke outside the club - and inside the dressing room as well.
Gareth just got on with it. Eventually, we won a game with him in the team, beating Burnley 5-0, and he never looked back.
Now, he is comfortably one of the best five players in world football and I am backing him to finish as the leading scorer at Euro 2016.
Bale has really relished the role he has for Wales and in France he has proved beyond doubt that he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Northern Ireland are in for a really difficult evening today and Gareth can wreak absolute havoc against them - as he did against Russia in the final group game. If I was Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, I would be thinking, 'My God, how do we stop him?' because it is a game Bale can really take a hold of. He is the main man for them, the star turn, and he has got everything as a player.
The first time I saw him was at Southampton, when he was about 14. He was one of the kids coming through with Theo Walcott and was the name on everyone's lips in the academy. He broke into their team a year or so later and then Spurs snapped him up pretty quickly.
I watched him play for Spurs at Fulham, while I was manager of Portsmouth, and remember thinking what a player he was going to be.
He played as a wing-back that day, with Spurs playing a three-man defence, but he was left out the following week.
When I was appointed at Spurs, his confidence was low and he needed a run because that jinx of never winning was showing no sign of ending.
Gareth would have been the best left-back in the world if he had stayed in that role. He played there for me against Benfica one night and I have never seen a performance like it. He must have run from his own penalty area to their byline about 15 times in the game - it was incredible.
It was a natural progression to move him forward and I switched him with Luka Modric. I moved Modric to central midfield, where he did not play and people said he was not strong enough, but he really flourished and we pushed Gareth forward one.
Gareth had a couple of years when he was simply unstoppable, he was running everybody ragged. Your instructions as a manager were really simple before the game: give the ball to Gareth.
Teams were petrified of him and it was arguably that night at Inter Milan in October 2010 which made everybody across the world sit up and take notice.
Maicon was supposed to be the best right-back in the world, but Gareth scared the life out of him. We had 10 men but he scored a hat-trick and we would have got something out of the game if we had have had another five minutes.
Gareth was a dream to manage. He was never a minute's problem, came out and trained hard every day. We'd give him a few days off to go back to Wales, but never had to worry about what he was doing while he was away because he was such a family man.
Now he is one of the most recognised players in world football and only six goals behind Ian Rush's record for Wales. I can see Wales going further in the competition with him in this kind of form - it's wide open for them. (© Daily Telegraph, London)