The days of watching Gareth Bale gather dust on the substitute bench were supposed to be over. It’s hard to question José Mourinho’s methodology today given that Tottenham Hotspur is leading the Premier League after 11 games, but one of the most surprising aspects of their buoyancy is the moderate use of their star name.
Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min can rightly claim that moniker, as they continue to form one of the most prolific associations in Europe, but it was Bale’s return to Spurs on loan, after seven years at Real Madrid, it really put minds. competing as to what might be possible this season.
If Spurs made significant strides to close the gap with Liverpool and Manchester City, then surely Bale would have to return as something close to the dynamic winger who convinced Real to make him the world’s most expensive player by paying £ 85.3 million for him in 2013. However, Tottenham took seven points away from City, Chelsea and Arsenal without Bale playing a single minute. In the three biggest games of the Spurs season to date, the 31-year-old was reduced to watching from the bench, sidelined in a way that paralleled the end of his time in the Spanish capital.
Bale’s relationship with the Madrid hierarchy had been broken to the point that at the end of August he did not even hide his feelings of disconnection from the team’s luck. Against Alavés, he used his mask to cover his eyes and pretend to sleep in the stands, before laughing openly when Brahim Díaz was hired as Real Madrid’s fifth and final substitute in injury time. A few days later, he returned to playing for the cameras while watching Real play Granada: Bale took a roll of medical tape to his eye, forming half of a set of imaginary binoculars, presumably in search of the race he had been forced to. To make. leave behind.
Bale socially distanced himself from Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane long before it became mandatory, so much so that during a BT Sport ad envisioning a world with unlimited substitutions, the Welshman allowed himself to be the butt of a joke while posing in a golf course. receive a phone call from Trent Alexander-Arnold in which the Liverpool defender said, “You could actually get a game now.”
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Bale doesn’t play much in the Premier League yet, but his behavior is markedly different. With 2,000 fans allowed back safely to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last weekend for Arsenal’s visit, Bale regularly recognized the fans who chanted his name and kept cheerfully warm on the touchline by cheerfully maintaining a sprint ahead of his fellow substitutes who tried in vain to catch up. There was even a hint of the level at which these Spurs players are buying into Mourinho’s trademark dark arts when Bale refused to budge for Gunners defender Kieran Tierney, who was trying to steal a few yards down the touchline before take a throw-in.
Bale needed time to catch up after his stint in the Madrid desert and the Spurs are flying in multiple competitions, but with Liverpool and Leicester City lurking later this month, Sunday’s trip to Crystal Palace is the time for let Bale start moving. center stage as many expected?
Don Hutchison credits Spurs’ “brilliant” transfer window as the reason they should be ahead of Man United.
There was a momentum behind Bale’s integration that Mourinho handled carefully from the start. The winger returned to North London in mid-September to great fanfare, but also a knee injury, underscoring the need for a long period of work in training ground to discover the sharpness needed to make an impact. He had only started four La Liga games in 2020 and only one since February, as the coronavirus pandemic and the deterioration of his relationship with Zidane left Bale ostracized and alienated, a recreational golfer rather than a professional footballer.
Consequently, Bale waited nearly a month to make his Premier League debut against West Ham United in October, memorable for wonderful skill and penetration in creating an opening that he later squandered. That failure was compounded by West Ham snatching a point, coming 3-0 down to score three times in the final eight minutes. The next time in the league, Bale came off the bench to score the winning goal against Brighton & Hove Albion, a header in keeping with the Spurs’ new No. 9. He showed more progress a week later, lasting 78 minutes in his first league start. when the Spurs beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0 at the Hawthorns.
Complemented by regular playing time in the Europa League, Bale gradually improved. Or, as Mourinho said, “we all have, not only the feeling, but also the data that Bale is coming.”
The Spurs manager felt that Bale’s careful upbringing might have been undermined during last month’s international break, leading to the somewhat bizarre claim that Wales coach Albert Stuivenberg, who also works for Arsenal, it would somehow sabotage the extreme workload. As is often the case with Mourinho’s conspiracy theories, such concerns were unfounded: Bale was left out of Wales’ friendly against the United States before playing 90 minutes against the Republic of Ireland and 61 minutes against Finland, all with positive effect. However, since then their only action at the club level has been in three Europa League games, the last of which was a 58-minute start in Thursday’s 2-0 home win over Royal Antwerp.
There is no suggestion that Bale is unhappy with his level of participation at this stage, especially as he continues to feel the liberating effect of returning to North London and the broader excitement in the club as a result of his current form. But Bale is paid around £ 200,000 a week to do more than watch from the sidelines. He was expected to form a devastating triumvirate with Kane and Son, possessing the power on paper to match any front lines around. However, Mourinho’s pragmatism has taken precedence for the moment and with the results as they are, just two losses all season and only one since the opening day loss to Everton, Bale has had to be more patient than usual. what I expected.
Last week, Mourinho claimed that Bale was still struggling to trust his body.
“The only problem with Gareth is getting the dynamics and confidence to play consecutive games without any bad feeling, without any negative feelings, without any memory of the recent past where the condition was not the best and the fears were there,” he explained. before Bale scored in a 3-3 tie with LASK Linz. An ongoing measure of caution is understandable, but conditioning alone does not explain Bale’s absence from Tottenham’s Premier League team.
He may not have had the expected individual impact on the field yet, but Bale’s presence seems to have emboldened those around him. Sources have told ESPN that Spurs players have been impressed with Bale’s level in practice sessions and his upbeat nature on training ground, even when they’re not playing.
Steven Bergwijn’s response has been particularly impressive. He regained possession against Arsenal on five occasions, only Serge Aurier (11) and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (8) made it more, and he has shown a willingness to dedicate himself to the defensive side of the game that Mourinho considers so important. Mourinho openly admitted that Bergwijn was “not my first choice” after Spurs paid PSV Eindhoven £ 26m to sign the winger last January, but started all three games against City, Chelsea and Arsenal to underline how much has changed. your coach’s opinion.
Much has been made of Tottenham’s conservative approach to climbing to the top of the table. Mourinho’s requirement that his players remain disciplined and out of possession, tracking to close space for opponents at all times, doesn’t necessarily play to Bale’s strengths. The prodigal son may have returned, but he must mess with the rest.
Ultimately, Bale’s quality in the final third is sure to be a vital component in the challenges ahead. The Spurs have been clinicians at the upper end of the field, notably in fact, with Kane and Son exceeding their expected numbers by some distance: Kane’s expected assists in the league stand at 4.31. It has 10. Son’s xG is 3.9. He has scored 10, the same number by the way that Arsenal have achieved throughout the season. The importance given to expected goal and assist statistics is debatable, but it provides an indication that the pair are performing at a level of efficiency that is likely to be unsustainable in a 38-game campaign, especially one that is so condensed. And those will be the moments when others will have to intervene.
Bale has had time to prepare. Your time may come soon.