As little as three years ago, Gareth Bale’s career was the subject of ridicule in the Spurs dressing room.
His standing was such that then team-mate David Bentley felt at ease lampooning him for a freak run, which saw Bale go through his first 24 games as a Spurs player without a single victory.
“There were one or two laughing about it,” Bale told Match of the Day magazine at the time. “David Bentley was probably one of them. He likes chirping up quite a lot.”
They’re not laughing now, and nobody’s heard a chirp out of Bentley for quite some time.
Bale’s recent form has, quite rightly, earned him the status of the Premier League’s foremost player. Bentley’s journey in the opposite direction serves to highlight the magnitude of that achievement.
Since that interview in August 2010, Bentley has lurched through loan spells with Birmingham, West Ham and Blackburn without so much as a single league goal to show for them.
On the other hand, Bale’s goals are now so regular, and so spectacular, it’s as if the narrative of this Premier League season has been taken over by his very own cartoon scriptwriters.
It is Bale’s attitude that sets him apart from Bentley, as much as his ability. Bentley was a talented and coveted youngster, he even drew comparisons with Dennis Bergkamp in his formative years.
But in the end his was a depressing deterioration based on an inability to take the game seriously.
Bentley’s two most high-profile moments in English football in the last five years – tipping a bucket of water over Harry Redknapp’s head and gyrating behind a Sky Sports News presenter during a live broadcast – bear that out.
Bale will not be sidetracked so easily.
There’s a ferocious single-mindedness about him which has been evident in each of his last eight goals, scored in just six games. It’s as if a switch flicks inside his head and he decides: ‘OK, enough is enough. It’s time for me to win this game.’
To think it, however, is one thing, to do it quite another. And Bale just keeps on doing it.
He has succeeded in making the outrageous seem like the norm to the point where spectators, almost justifiably, expect heroics every time he lines up a shot.
That’s a lot of responsibility for a 23-year-old – especially when you think that some men his age can’t even manage their own laundry – and Spurs have come to depend on him to an alarming degree.
Had they faced their last eight games without him, they would find themselves 10 points further back in the Premier League and out of Europe.
In a sense, their whole season rests on his shoulders.
But for the greatest players, dependency like this is not a burden; it’s what they thrive on.
The challenge for Bale now is to maintain this glorious intensity and stake his claim as a future candidate for the Ballon D’Or.
This week he told MOTD he was willing to do whatever it takes to become the greatest player in the world.
Knowing Bale, you sense he won’t need reminding of Bentley’s tale as evidence of what happens if you take your foot off the pedal.
Read an exclusive interview with Gareth Bale in this week’s issue of Match of the Day magazine, on sale now
Ed Bearryman is features editor at Match of the Day magazine