Brilliant Bale has world at his feet
When Luis Figo got wearily to his feet at the final whistle and made the short walk to congratulate Harry Redknapp, there was only one name on his lips.
The legendary Figo, now on Inter Milan's staff after a stellar career that also took in Barcelona and Real Madrid, recognises special moments and special talents when he witnesses them.
And Gareth Bale's electrifying display in Tottenham's landmark 3-1 win against Champions League holders Inter Milan will probably have fulfilled all Figo's criteria for world class.
"Bale is just amazing, amazing. He has killed us twice," Figo told Redknapp at the end of a thrilling game that will stand comparison with many of the club's famous "Glory Glory" nights and any in White Hart Lane's modern era.
Spurs boss Redknapp joked that Figo had not followed up the praise by putting in a bid to take Bale to Inter but such was the scope of the Welshman's performance that he will be on the radar of every major club in European football.
Bale leaves Maicon trailing in his wake. Photo: AFP
It is rare that an individual player puts his name to a single match but when this night is recalled, replayed and recounted over the years by Spurs fans - as it will be and as it deserves to be - this will indeed be Gareth Bale's game.
Spurs had giants all over the pitch, from William Gallas and Younes Kaboul at the back to Luka Modric and Tom Huddlestone in midfield. Even keeper Carlo Cudicini made a key contribution with a crucial save from Wesley Sneijder.
But Bale was something else. He was like a white tornado that left Rafael Benitez, for all his renowned European tactical acumen, powerless and fidgety in his technical area as he made a miserable return to England following his summer departure from Liverpool.
Bale came to wider attention a fortnight ago with his hat-trick in the San Siro as Spurs lost 4-3 but this performance was arguably better. His goals in Italy came in a game that was already lost, with Inter 4-0 up and in cruise control. But Tuesday's display was from a goalless standing start and destroyed one of the most celebrated defences - and defenders - in world football.
Brazilian Maicon is coveted for his talents, a key member of Jose Mourinho's side that won the trophy last season. And yet he was given the runaround time and again on a night he will never forget, for all the wrong reasons.
From the moment Bale raced past him early on, accompanied by a deafening roar of approval and encouragement from the majority of the White Hart Lane crowd, the tone was set for a nightmare for Maicon and an outstanding performance from Spurs.
Spurs and their followers have had to choke on tales of Champions League exploits from rivals Arsenal, and the style in which they were accomplished, for years. Now they have a tale of their own. There was a feeling before kick-off that something special was in the air - and at the heart of it all was Bale.
Maicon was a broken man long before the end, with chants of "Taxi For Maicon" from the exultant home fans adding to his misery. Benitez called for reinforcements to assist his right-back in an attempt to stem the Bale-inspired tide. It was a waste of time as both his Brazil team-mate Lucio and substitute Obiora Nwankwo went the same way.
Redknapp, who could not disguise his pride and elation after one of the best nights of his long career, heaped praise on Bale, underscoring the player's modesty by revealing: "I gave him three or four days off last week. I told him to go abroad for a few days - and he did. He went to Cardiff to stay with his mum."
Redknapp added that Bale is "a low maintenance boy, easy to manage". But try telling that to the bedraggled and humbled figure of Maicon after the torture he endured at Bale's hands.
Rafael Van der Vaart set the ball rolling with an early goal and Bale saw a pearl of a cross wasted by Peter Crouch before a surging second-half run ended with an invitation the striker could not fail to accept.
The excellent Samuel Eto'o threatened to salvage an unlikely share of the spoils for Inter before Bale saved his best until last, with another burst that ended with the perfect provider, this time for Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Gone are the days when Bale struggled to even make a winning Spurs side, struggled to make the best of his left-back role. He is now - and this is not over-stating the case - one of the finest attacking left-sided players in the world.
It could almost have been described as the performance of a lifetime by Bale, except you know he has the talent to do it again. Maicon, regarded by many experts as the best in his position, was emphatically shredded.
Roman Pavlyuchenko made sure of victory. Photo: Getty Images
Those of us fortunate enough to get a close-up view of Bale at White Hart Lane saw a performance of pace, power, precision and end product. To produce a run of such energy in the closing moments to create Pavlyuchenko's goal confirmed that Bale has all the weapons in his armoury to do damage any time, anywhere to anyone.
Redknapp, who also deserves great credit for expertly preparing his team to play so positively in the face of the formidable challenge from the European champions, believes Bale will eventually return to the position of left-back. But the havoc he creates in a more advanced role makes him indispensable there.
If there is a downside for Spurs - and in reality there should not be after announcing themselves with such force in the Champions League - it is that Bale will now attract even more interest than he has done until this point.
If Figo was whispering praise in Redknapp's ear, one can only imagine what he might say to Inter president Massimo Moratti in the privacy of the inner sanctum. And when the superpowers of Barcelona and Real Madrid see the carnage Bale left behind him against Inter, they may just step up an interest already kindled by his hat-trick in Milan.
Indeed, if Manchester United are serious about buying the world's best to placate Wayne Rooney, they may well think Bale is the identikit replacement for countryman Ryan Giggs.
Redknapp, who seemed almost in awe of Bale's efforts despite having seen pretty much everything in the game, was strident and the player's own down-to-earth approach will serve him and Spurs well.
Bale signed a new contract recently and will go nowhere in January because, barring major accidents, he will be playing for Spurs in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Next summer may be a different matter but for now Redknapp will have him all to himself.
And what sort of fee would he command on the evidence of Tuesday's performance? Spurs will not put a price on his head but you can rest assured someone will try.
It would be doing Spurs a disservice to home in solely on Bale, no matter how big the temptation, because this was a team performance of the highest order demonstrating that any team in the Champions League is in danger of enduring an uncomfortable night at White Hart Lane.
The old stadium rocked and echoed in elation at the standard of Tottenham's efforts. Spurs fans have waited a long time for occasions like this and it is clear they intend to make the most of them.
How far can Spurs go on this adventure? They will surely reach the knockout phase and, while their defence has proved vulnerable, there is no doubt they have rare potency in the shape of Modric, Van der Vaart and, of course, Bale.
When Spurs broke the barrier and reached the Champions League with victory at Manchester City last season, Redknapp and his players were looking ahead to special nights against the great sides.
And when the draw was made, this was the fixture ringed in every calendar. Now it will be remembered for years to come.
Redknapp, on the eve of this game, promised Spurs fans "a wild ride." They got that all right - and from Gareth Bale they got one of the great personal performances.