Bale finds Britannia redemption as Pulis fumes over ghost goal
TWO years ago, a 19-year-old Gareth Bale walked off the pitch at the Britannia Stadium with his head bowed. There were 70 minutes to play and he had just been sent off after conceding a penalty in a game Tottenham were to lose.
On Saturday, he left the same pitch with fans chanting his name, after a performance, and a goal, that may well define his career.
Bale's shoulder-high left-footed volley to win the game against Stoke was more than simply an immaculate piece of technique. It was a bellowing statement of intent, an assertion of the player he has become: confident, poised, a world away from the apprehensive, injury-prone teenager who had to play 24 league games for Spurs before winning one.
"When I first came here, he always seemed to be limping off the training ground every time he got touched," his manager Harry Redknapp said. "He realised he had to be tougher mentally if he was going to make it. His confidence is sky high -- he's just become an amazing player."
It was a heart-to-heart with Redknapp that kick-started the transformation.
"I just said, 'Come on Gareth, stop messing about with your hair,'" Redknapp joked. "Good tactical stuff. And he's come on leaps and bounds. He's as good as anything around. You couldn't even put a value on him. Almost any club in the world would want to buy him."
Redknapp even predicted that he could one day be as good as Ashley Cole. "Cole started out as a left-winger as a kid at Arsenal," Redknapp said. "If Bale's going to be the best anywhere, I think it'll be from left-back."
Bale's first goal, a deflection off his face, was cancelled out six minutes later by Ricardo Fuller, but there was no doubt about the quality of the second.
"It was a great goal, great technique," Stoke manager Tony Pulis admitted. However, Pulis was incensed at referee Chris Foy's decision not to award a goal when a last-minute shot by Jon Walters appeared to cross the line before it was chested away by Peter Crouch.
Walters, making his debut after a £2.75m move from Ipswich, said: "I thought it was a goal, and all the lads said the same. The difference that lost point could make might be huge at the end of the season."
Stoke striker Mamady Sidibe could also be out for up to a year after snapping his Achilles and Pulis revealed that new £8m signing Kenwyne Jones could be weeks from full fitness.
Meanwhile, Tottenham have completed the signing of the former Arsenal captain William Gallas on a one-year deal. Gallas, who will become the first player to play competitively for Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, will not be eligible to face Young Boys on Wednesday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)