Sometimes there is a moment in an elite player’s career when the speed of his development outstrips that of his team.
For Thierry Henry it became obvious he was operating at another level to the rest of the Arsenal team when his goal in the Bernabeu secured victory over Real Madrid on the way to the 2006 Champions League final.
When Wayne Rooney, then 16, ended Arsenal’s 30 match unbeaten run with a stunning winner at Goodison Park in October 2002, it wasn’t long before English football realised Everton had unearthed a gem.
After Gareth Bale’s stunning strike at White Hart Lane on Sunday, it was confirmation the forward has outgrown this Tottenham team.
He is a Champions League player in a Europa League team.
At 23, he has completed the Grand Slam of individual honours this season: PFA Players’ Player of the Year, PFA Young Player of the Year, FWA Football of the Year and Barclays Premier League Player of the Year.
You have to go right back to 1999 in the PFA awards list for the last player to win it without playing Champions League football that season.
David Ginola was unquestionably a decent player, but his Champions League days were behind him when he left Newcastle to move to White Hart Lane in 1997.
Bale is easily Tottenham’s star, an elite Premier League player at a team with aspirations to finish in the top four.
If he really is to be talked about in the same breath as the game’s greats then now is the time to get out.
He has spent six largely successful years at Tottenham, establishing himself in the team after a tough start and going on to become their biggest asset.
Spurs know time is running out and all they can do after finishing fifth in the Premier League is to offer him more money.
It’s their only bargaining chip after Andre Villas-Boas’ team failed to finish above their north London rivals on the final day of the season.
Bale’s game has been transformed again this season, thrust into an attacking role after knocking on the manager’s door at the start of the season.
He explained, with great candour, that Bale had become disillusioned and was no longer enjoying his football.
There were times last season under Harry Redknapp when Bale’s position was modified, at the player’s request, and he was playing in a more central role.
Villas-Boas decided to promote him to an attacking role, giving him freedom up front and a licence to roam.
Bale responded with 21 goals in the Premier League in 33 games, but it wasn’t enough to take them back into the Champions League.
Every top club in Europe wants Bale in their team and he has a decision to make about his future this summer
Some of the Premier League greats, such as Steven Gerrard, have never won the title, but the Liverpool captain has won the European Cup.
So far every accolade Bale has won in the game have been personal achievements, but trophies count for more at the end of a career.
Cristiano Ronaldo was 24 when he left Manchester United after six years – the same time Bale has spent at Spurs – at Old Trafford.
In that time Ronaldo won three Premier League titles, the Champions League, FA Cup, two Carling Cups and the Club World Cup.
If Bale really is about to break into that bracket and be considered one of the world’s best footballers, then he should be challenging for the game’s top honours.
Another season of anxiety about finishing fourth with Spurs, when they will compete with United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal will not enhance his game.
Outside of Southampton’s academy, few people could possibly have predicted the remarkable and rapid development in Bale’s game over the past six seasons.
His free-kicks and long-range shooting were no secret when he was at Saints and it was well-known at international level when he made his debut in 2006 that he was a player of immense promise.
Tottenham capitalised on that and he is already ranked among the greatest players in the club’s history.
That is an exceptional achievement, but Bale has to look beyond another tantalising season when they almost qualify for the Champions League again.
Bale could be one of the main men at Manchester United, succeeding Ryan Giggs out on the left or operating in the problem position immediately behind Robin van Persie.
Tottenham insist they will not sell their biggest asset, but Bale’s work is done at White Hart Lane.