No longer a jinx, Bale can lead Wales into the Euro final: Harry
With his national team now standing 90 minutes away from a place in the final of the European Championships, it's hard to believe that Gareth Bale was once seen as a jinx.
As an Englishman who helped Bale develop into the player he is now, Harry Redknapp can only sit back and admire the achievements of his former protégé Bale and the Welsh squad, given the abject failure of England at Euro 2016.
Redknapp's name has been mentioned in some quarters as a possible solution to England's woes and, speaking in Dublin yesterday to promote the new six-channel Eir Sport Pack, Redknapp stopped short of touting himself for the England job outright.
Instead he suggested that he could go in as part of a team with an ex-international, such as Rio Ferdinand or Alan Shearer. He's mystified at how England regularly coast through qualification but then flop on the big stage, unable to deal with the burden. "We get to a tournament and can't handle the pressure, I don't know what causes it," says Redknapp.
"We've had outstanding managers but whoever's took the team, same old story: we get to the tournament, qualify no problem, soon as we come under a bit of pressure, we don't perform."
Wales have, of course, performed, and while Redknapp ruefelly admits that he can't see the Welsh winning the tournament, he feels that an in-form Bale can inspire them against Portugal tonight.
"I can't see it," he says of a Welsh overall win.
"They can [win] but if you asked me to have a bet I wouldn't be putting my money on them. I think the winner will come from the other side and I think France will take the beating. They've got the home advantage, Germany are never easy to beat but I don't think it's the best German team we've seen either," added Rednapp, hoping that tonight Bale could take control of Euro 2016, or what's left of it.
"I don't think we've seen the best of him in this tournament, he hasn't really took the tournament by storm.
This game tonight, if he's on his game he can win it. Ronaldo has not been on his game either and he could do the same," admits Redknapp, who was part of the development process of Bale - including that difficult early spell (which led one London paper to label Bale a 'flop') at Spurs.
"He had a terrible start, 26-27 games and never played on a winning team when I arrived there," says Redknapp,
"Alex [Ferguson] said to me, 'I wouldn't play him'. I said 'I have to play him, he's a good player'. He [Ferguson] said he was superstitious and wouldn't play him but he had to break the duck somewhere.
"I think we were winning 2-0 with two minutes to go when I put him on, I thought 'we can't get beat here'," joked the ex-Spurs boss.
"When he was at Tottenham, he was incredible, running teams ragged, he would have been the best left back in the world, but I converted him [from left back].
"I thought we could get more out of him pushing him forward, then I moved him off the left wing and played him like he plays now."
How England could do with a player, and a whole team, with Bale's attitude now, the Welsh side playing with a smile on their faces while a grey England suffer. "I look at our players and I still wouldn't swap our players for any other squad. I've said it all along: I think we have fantastic players. But something happens when we go to a tournament," he says, regretting the lack of spirit.
"You need a bit of fun, don't you? You can't have too many dour people around. At Euro '96, Gazza took all the pressure off. At three o'clock in the morning, Gazza would wake them up for a table tennis competition, go and bang on their doors and get 'em out of bed and all that. You can't imagine them having a lot of fun now, can you?"