Redknapp: Lifting Bale curse against Burnley was vital
TOTTENHAM'S stunning season may have ended on a disappointing note on Sunday but, on an individual level, there were two fitting finales. Luka Modric capped a fine campaign with a rare goal, having played a central role (literally)...
By Ben Pearce
TOTTENHAM'S stunning season may have ended on a disappointing note on Sunday but, on an individual level, there were two fitting finales.
Luka Modric capped a fine campaign with a rare goal, having played a central role (literally) in the recent victories over Arsenal, Chelsea, Bolton and Manchester City - effectively sealing Spurs' place in the top four.
It was the Croatian's third strike in 32 appearances this season, after Gareth Bale had opened the scoring with his third goal of the campaign.
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More to the point, however, is the fact that Bale's third-minute strike was also his third in six matches, following crucial goals against both Arsenal and Chelsea - both of which turned out to be the winner.
It was certainly appropriate that Bale should end his season with another goal, because the 20-year-old has been one of the great stories of the campaign.
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In fact, he has been one of the telling tales of Tottenham's revival over the last 18 months and, in many ways, he is a walking metaphor for Spurs' transformation under Harry Redknapp.
When Redknapp arrived at White Hart Lane, Bale screamed unfulfilled potential, showing tantalising glimpses of promise on the attack but too often proving to be soft on the back foot. In fact, he was an expensive national joke.
Now he is the complete player, combining flair and pace on the front foot with a powerful, muscular resilience without the ball. Just like Tottenham as a whole.
The key ingredient has been confidence, for Bale and his team-mates alike, and Redknapp can put his finger on the day when the young Welsh international turned the corner and took his first step towards an astonishing turnaround - Saturday September 26 and a 5-0 home win over Burnley.
Robbie Keane scored four goals, Jermaine Jenas grabbed the other and, incidentally, Bale replaced Aaron Lennon in the 85th minute. It was to be a defining moment.
Bale had previously gone 24 Premier League games without being on the winning side - regardless of whether he had started the game or come off the bench. This time it was different.
After the game, the Welshman made light of ending his 'curse', insisting that it was 'just one of those freak things' and that it never bothered him.
According to Redknapp, that was far from the reality. In fact, the Spurs boss believes that Bale's hoodoo affected the entire team, affected his own team selections, and became an issue that he had to resolve at the first opportunity.
"Confidence is key. He had that terrible spell of not being on the winning team for 24 games. Suddenly we got rid of that, we managed to win with him in the team, and his confidence has risen," said the manager last week.
"I think all of our confidence went higher after that because it's not a nice feeling, that every time the lad plays we couldn't win. I think we all started to get a bit edgy about it.
"Was there a time in that period when I thought twice about picking him? Yes, I'd be a liar if I said that it wasn't a consideration.
"There are times when you think about things like that. We're all superstitious, I'm very superstitious anyway - I'll wear the same suit when we're winning and chuck it when we lose, things like that.
"And you think 'this doesn't seem right, it doesn't seem possible for this to happen'. But we got it out of the way and since then he hasn't looked back."
Less than eight months later, Bale has started every one of Tottenham's 26 games in 2010, ever since replacing the injured Benoit Assou-Ekotto at left-back at the turn of the year.
The flying Welshman has arguably been Spurs' best player in the second half of the season, and was rewarded with a new four-year contract last week.
"That's very important," said Redknapp. "He's been fantastic, he's still a young player and I think he's become as good a left-sided player as there is in the Premier League now. He's got everything to keep progressing and becoming a great player."
Redknapp has plenty to ponder this summer as he plots the way ahead for Spurs, but one of his big decisions will be settling on the best way to maximise Bale's impact, particularly after his recent glut of goals from midfield.
"He can play left-back or left side. There's a bit of a debate where his best position is, and everyone's got different opinions," admits Redknapp.
"He can play both positions very well, so it's a nice dilemma for me. I've also got Benoit, who's a top left-back as well, so it's a nice position on the left-hand side to have the two of them."
"If you ask my honest opinion I think Gareth will become a great left-back. I think he's an outstanding left-sided player as well but I think if he's going to be the best he'll be a left-back eventually. That's how I see it.