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Can a familiar face bail out Mourinho and Spurs?

Gareth Bale is set to re-join the North London club.

Gareth Bale helped Real Madrid win four Champions League trophies, including a brace in the 2018 final.
Gareth Bale helped Real Madrid win four Champions League trophies, including a brace in the 2018 final.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

Updated at 15.58

WHEN GARETH BALE left Tottenham to join Real Madrid in September 2013, his stock could hardly have been much higher.

An undoubted superstar, he had been named in the PFA Team of the Year for three consecutive seasons.

The Wales star, aged 24 when he departed England and now 31, was being talked of as one of the best players, not just in England, but the world.

The 2012-13 campaign was particularly fruitful. He had won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award for the second time, while also claiming PFA Young Player of the Year accolade.

Bale had finished the season with an impressive tally of 21 goals in 33 appearances, thriving especially since being given more freedom to attack by his club.

It was a far cry from the beginning of his Spurs career, having started out there as a left-back and infamously experiencing a 24-game winless run before securing his first victory in a Tottenham jersey.

Harry Redknapp was reportedly close to sending him on loan to Nottingham Forest at one stage, before his fortunes dramatically improved.

His subsequent move to Real Madrid was for a world-record fee and took place amid considerable fanfare.

Bale was being regularly compared to the individual he had replaced as football’s most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo, and the Welsh star did not shy away from these associations.

It would be wrong to describe Bale’s seven seasons in La Liga as a failure, however it was far from an unqualified success either.

Given the level of expectation, it was always going to be tough for the Welsh international to live up to fans’ hopes. Injuries also hindered Bale’s progress, as did a system primarily centred around Ronaldo, whose actions occasionally hinted at a troubled relationship between the pair, despite public utterances to the contrary.

There were also occasional PR errors that didn’t endear Bale to Spanish fans and media, most notably the fan-made banner, which read “WALES. GOLF. MADRID… IN THAT ORDER” that Bale was pictured celebrating with after helping his country qualify for the Euros — an attempt at humour that went awry.

Overall, Bale managed 105 goals in 251 appearances — a respectable tally while still well below Messi and Ronaldo levels. He won just one Copa del Rey and two La Liga titles during that period, in addition to a highly impressive four Champions League trophies.

The victory over Liverpool in the final of Europe’s top club competition in 2018 is perhaps the best summary of the bittersweet nature of Bale’s Madrid career in microcosm — he scored a spectacular bicycle kick and then added another to inspire his side’s triumph, though it was a moment borne out of frustration, with the star left on the bench initially and only introduced just after the hour mark.

An uneasy relationship with manager Zinedine Zidane was a recurring theme of his Madrid spell and the World Cup winner’s return for a second stint in charge always felt like the beginning of the end for Bale at the club, and this suspicion was gradually confirmed. The Welshman was increasingly left out of the team, and in recent times, Zidane has made no secret of the fact that he wanted the player out of the club. Indeed, the fact that the La Liga outfit are still reportedly willing to pay 60% of Bale’s wages during the Spurs loan indicates the degree to which they are desperate to be rid of him.

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Looking back now, while the 2013 move was great for Bale, it also was far from a disaster for Spurs. The substantial transfer fee would have helped fund their new stadium, and Bale’s exit to some extent paved the way for younger players like Harry Kane and Dele Alli to establish themselves, while they also used part of the money to bring the similarly talented Christian Eriksen to the club.

Whether Bale’s second spell at Tottenham proves as fruitful as his first remains to be seen though.

The manner of last Sunday’s defeat to Everton more so than the result itself will have proved alarming to Spurs fans.

Last season, Mourinho had a list of convenient excuses, namely the dreadful start under the watch of his predecessor Mauricio Pochettino and the long-term injuries that two of the club’s most potent attackers — Harry Kane and Son Heung-min — had suffered.

Yet at the weekend, Tottenham were close to full strength and they still struggled. The second half will have proved particularly gloomy for Mourinho. The Portuguese coach afterwards suggested his players lacked fitness, but creativity was another glaring issue — you got the sense they could have played all night and still wouldn’t have scored, so tepid and incoherent were their attacks.

In midfield, new signing Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Harry Winks were outclassed by André Gomes, Abdoulaye Doucouré and Allan.

In the wake of the loss, Mourinho — whose reactive style of football has been described as outdated and unsuitable for Spurs by some pundits – publicly criticised Wolves recruit Matt Doherty. Meanwhile, reports of a fractious relationship with Alli are unlikely to be quelled by the fact that the 24-year-old was substituted at half-time of the Everton game, in addition to being left out of their Europa League squad

In previous jobs, Mourinho’s teams have famously peaked in his second season at clubs, before it all ultimately tends to unravel in most instances. However, the inauspicious start to the season, which has also included a less-than-convincing Europa League victory over Bulgarian outfit Lokomotiv Plovdiv, would suggest the manager may struggle to repeat his past feats in North London, particularly with the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and both Manchester clubs looking like they will be as strong, or in some cases stronger than last season.

A top-four finish would represent success for Spurs given what they are up against, though it is asking a lot to expect one ageing and injury-prone player, no matter how talented, to fix their many conspicuous problems.

Upcoming Premier League fixtures:

Saturday

Everton v West Brom (12.30)
Leeds United v Fulham (15.00)
Man United v Crystal Palace (17.30)
Arsenal v West Ham (20.00)

Sunday

Southampton v Tottenham (12.00)
Newcastle v Brighton (14.00)
Chelsea v Liverpool (16.30)
Leicester City v Burnley (19.00)

Monday

Aston Villa v Sheffield United (18.00)
Wolves v Man City (20.15)

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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