As Tottenham ready themselves for a Champions League reunion with Inter, memories of a visit to San Siro back in October 2010 come flooding back
Four goals down at half-time. Reduced to 10 men. At San Siro. Against the reigning champions.
As Tottenham trudged off the field in Milan back on October 20, 2010, the collective heads of Harry Redknapp’s troops were spinning.
The Champions League lights, it appeared, were too bright for the men from north London.
A first campaign among the European elite had started positively enough, delivering four points from meetings with Werder Bremen and FC Twente, but an altogether different kind of test had now presented itself and Spurs were failing… badly.
The post-match headlines would, however, not be a tale of Inter dominance, of Samuel Eto’o bagging a brace or Heurelho Gomes suffering an unfortunate rush of blood which saw him sent for an early bath inside eight minutes.
Instead, the evening would be best remembered for the emergence of a 21-year-old Welshman.
Some 10 months earlier, Gareth Bale was little more than a peripheral figure at White Hart Lane, with the exit doors expected to swing open during the January transfer window.
Nottingham Forest were among those keen to acquire a man then turning out at left-back and one who had only ended a two-year, 25-game wait to take in a first victory as a Tottenham player in September 2009.
A £3 million move was mooted, but fate would ensure that Bale’s career path would lead him to the Santiago Bernabeu rather than the City Ground, with a couple of zeros added to a record-breaking price tag along the way.
Few could have predicted that a €100 million (£89m/$117m) transfer to Real Madrid lay in store when the 2010-11 campaign got underway, but one outing on Italian soil made believers of the doubters.
Bale was everything that night that he has been ever since.
Inter had no answer to his searing pace and direct running, with the decision to nudge him up the field and onto the flanks having freed the fleet-footed performer from the defensive shackles which had been holding him back.
On two occasions he found himself running away from the iconic figure of Javier Zanetti to drill low into the bottom corner, with the same piece of netting found for a third time with a wand of a left foot to record a first senior hat-trick.
Bale’s efforts were, in the grand scheme of things, too little, too late, but a marker had been put down and a star had been born.
Two weeks later, back in England, Tottenham would prove to Inter that their late fightback was no fluke, with a forgettable night for the Nerazzurri – with Maicon the chief culprit in their demise – finding themselves on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline.
From there, Spurs would go on to top their group, edge out AC Milan in the last-16 and only see their dreams dashed when they ran into the Champions League wrecking ball that is Real Madrid at the quarter-final stage.
That two-legged contest delivered another humbling continental lesson, but it also presented Bale with a first trip to the Santiago Bernabeu.
A little over two years later he would be back in those surroundings as a permanent addition, the most expensive player in world football and a man ready to fill his pockets with winners’ medals aplenty.
One game did not put him in that position but, as Spurs prepare to head back to San Siro for the first time in eight years, it is impossible to ignore the impact one historic outing against Inter had in turning a softly-spoken youngster from Cardiff into the global superstar he is today.
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