Could Gareth Bale still have a future at Spurs?


Optimism is a commodity that has been in short supply among Tottenham supporters in recent months but glimmers of it could be detected in the aftermath of Sunday’s 4-0 thrashing of Burnley. Jose Mourinho’s side were, as Graeme Souness would say, ‘bang at it’ from the first whistle. Burnley can be obdurate opponents but they were unable to contain a Spurs attacking unit containing Lucas Moura, Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Gareth Bale. Spurs barely broke sweat on their way to only their fourth league triumph of 2021.

Sunday’s victory was only the second time this Premier League season that Kane, Son and Bale have been included in the same starting XI. That, of course, is because the Wales international has been a peripheral figure ever since his celebrated return to the club last summer. Bale had to wait until November for his first start of the top-flight campaign and then another 12 weeks for his second. This has not been the fairytale second act that many envisaged when Tottenham welcomed him back on a season-long loan from Madrid.

There is still time for the 31-year-old to have his say. Tottenham are through to next month’s League Cup final as they seek their first trophy since 2008. Despite their patchy recent form Mourinho’s men remain a part of the top-four race, with West Ham United (who have played a game more than their London rivals) just six points ahead. Tottenham breezed past Wolfsberger in the last 32 of the Europa League and will fancy their chances against Dinamo Zagreb in the second knockout round.

Everyone thought that Gareth Bale would turn Tottenham around but, so far, it hasn’t been the case. It looks as if Bale will be a more prominent part of Tottenham’s attempt to compete on three fronts from here on in. Mourinho said the 31-year-old looks “happier than ever” and “confident” in the build-up to Sunday’s match. The Spurs boss also stated Bale was in the “best condition since he arrived”, which can only be good news for Spurs.

Yet even if, in the best-case scenario, Bale goes on to inspire Spurs to silverware or Champions League qualification, there will still be a feeling of ‘what if?’ around his second spell with the club. His lack of action in the Premier League has been a major surprise. Mourinho has regularly hinted that he has not been physically ready to play in such a demanding environment, but it remains curious that Spurs have had a player of Bale’s undoubted talent watching on from the bench for most of the campaign.

If Bale continues in the same vein of form that saw him score twice against Burnley at the weekend, Tottenham fans will be entitled to wonder whether he should have been in the team much earlier. It is difficult to know what goes on behind closed doors at Spurs and Bale certainly seems like the type of player who is not willing to take risks with his body. That appears to have put him at odds with Mourinho, a manager who demands total commitment to the cause.

Whatever the reason for his prolonged absence, it represents a missed opportunity for Tottenham. No one expected Spurs to challenge for the title last summer, but they occupied top spot for several weeks earlier this season. Manchester City have been relentless of late, but it is hard not to wonder if Bale could have made the difference in some of the games where Spurs began to stutter. They probably would not be top right now, but they could easily be closer to the top four if they had made proper use of Bale before late February.

The next few months could determine whether or not the Welshman stays in north London for another season. His agent, Jonathan Barnett, told Goal recently that his client would have no problems returning to Madrid in the summer. But if Zinedine Zidane, one of the best player/managers of all time, remains at the helm in the Spanish capital, it is hard to see Bale being welcomed back, despite everything he accomplished in Madrid.

Tottenham have the option to extend the deal for another year, and their decision could be instructive about where the power lies at the club. Bale always felt like a Daniel Levy signing. Mourinho could yet change his mind, but his actions for much of the season suggest he would not be too bothered if the forward went back to Madrid. Levy, of course, could overrule his manager, but their relationship would be strained as a result.

For now, Bale and Mourinho will be focused on helping Spurs climb up the Premier League table once more. It has looked unlikely in recent months, but perhaps this story has a happy ending after all.

 


 

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