Micah Richards believes the form of Gareth Bale spells trouble for the rest of the Premier League, and has backed Tottenham to make a serious push for a top four finish as a result.
Bale, on loan from Real Madrid, appeared to be struggling to settle back in to life in England.
He had managed just four goals and one assist in all competitions by mid-February. Bale had also spent much of the season watching on from the sidelines.
However, the Welshman has rediscovered his form in recent weeks, scoring six goals and assisting two in his last seven appearances. That includes doubles in two of his last three league games.
And in a column for the Daily Mail, Richards has praised the 31-year-old for his improved displays.
“This point was always going to come, where he began to pull the strings and make a difference,” he said. “His timing could not have been better.
“Tottenham go into the north London derby as dark horses for the top four but you would be a fool to say it is beyond them. They have some weaknesses at the back but at the top of the pitch, I would argue they have got the best front three in the Premier League.
“Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have had that title for a long time but they are the most consistent. I’d say Tottenham’s front three is potentially the best because of Bale, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min can do everything.
“It really wouldn’t surprise me if they finish in the top four thanks to this front three. Son is incredible, Kane can score any kind of goal and Bale has something that only the best possess – the ability to terrify just by being on the pitch.
“Jose Mourinho has come under fire for how he has used Bale and, at times, all has not seemed well. In recent weeks, though, there has been a significant change and you can see Gareth has a big smile on his face once again. That should spell danger for Arsenal and the rest.
“His romantic return to Tottenham has been a slow-burner but I hope he stays next season for another year. The days when he took off like an Olympic sprinter might be gone but the ability to change a game with a flash of genius remains. Write him off at your peril.”
‘Irritating’ Bale criticism ‘absolute rubbish’
Richards also revealed his frustrations with those who wrote Bale off after his underwhelming return to Spurs.
Having fallen out of favour towards the end of his time at Madrid and then failed to make an immediate impact for Mourinho’s side, some felt his best days were behind him.
But Richards says he never agreed with that narrative and is glad to see him impressing again.
“I’ve listened all season to critics of Bale, who have questioned his desire and his effectiveness, and felt saddened. Sometimes I’m not sure he gets the respect he deserves. Four Champions League winners’ medals? What more can he do!
“Maybe people expected on his return to Tottenham at the beginning of the season they were going to see the Bale of old. The flying machine who would trample all over you. That was never realistic. He’s matured over the last eight years, he’s advanced his games in terms of positioning.
“But to hear people question Bale’s hunger was really irritating. Perhaps it stems from the infamous photograph of him celebrating with Wales’s squad with the banner that read: ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order.’ The assumption, I guess, is that Bale isn’t as motivated as he once was.
“That’s absolute rubbish. In the last two seasons in Madrid, Bale will have felt hurt and embarrassment. Do you know how hard it is to walk into a dressing room, having been someone who has scaled such heights, knowing that you won’t get a chance?
“Bale’s love of football will never have gone through that. He will have been angry that he was denied the chance to play and frustrated that Zinedine Zidane effectively cut him adrift but it has felt like some of the criticism aimed at him has been personal.”