Bale was born to play for Spurs
Barring some crazy, Spursy disaster, Tottenham look set to welcome back their hero... but there is still a lot of hard work ahead
18 September, 2020 — By Dan Carrier
Dan Carrier: ‘The last 24 hours have given Spurs fans a sense of beautiful romance’
Europa League: Qualifying Second Round
LOKOMOTIV PLOVDIV 1 (Minchev 71)
TOTTENHAM 2 (Kane 80, Ndombele 85)
IT was February, 2013. It was a horrible night. Cold, wet, and an aggressive atmosphere. The Hammers press box was half way up the main stand and surrounded by vocal home supporters.
Spurs were third and needing a win to keep up their Champions League chase. West Ham were being roared on by their fans to give Tottenham a bloody nose.
Spurs had levelled the score at 2-2 with 15 minutes left, setting up a grand stand 15 minutes to press for the winner.
But it looked like the clock was against us, and we’d be schlepping home late from the moody east London streets thinking of vital points dropped.
Enter little Tom Carroll on 90. He pushed the ball three-yards to Gareth Bale. They were both central, in space, but Carroll handed the reigns over as if to say, here you go mate, do your worst.
With delightful athleticism, Bale tapped the ball gently forward with the point of his right boot, and then slammed it with curve, pace and power in to the top corner from about 35-yards.
The rapier like trajectory, the whip, the speed of thought and the muscular conditioning to be able to pull off such an instinctive, graceful, piece of skill was world class.
Six months after that goal against West Ham, I was with the New Journal sports editor, Steve Barnett, at the Emirates for the north London derby.
It was the start of the new season, the transfer window was still open and Daniel Levy had been haggling the price upwards for a while.
Bale wanted to go, Real Madrid were ready to lay down serious money, and Levy was keen – but the season started, he was still officially a Spurs player, and he didn’t play.
Manager Andres Villas-Boas confirmed in the post-match press conference Bale was off. It was a horrible end to the love affair, no way to say goodbye.
Now he is back, and as the return of a hero sinks in, let us not underestimate the task Bale faces. Spurs have looked sluggish for at least 18 months: the momentum has gone and the team in flux.
Replacing Mousa Dembele and Christian Eriksen with Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso has yet to bed in.
And Harry Kane’s work load seems to have made him more of a battler, a trier, rather than that broad shouldered but impish forward of three years back. He could do with a rest, while the whole team looks in need of geeing up.
Bale’s signing not only bolsters Jose Mourinho’s options up front, but his presence in the dressing room will motivate the team as it has the fanbase. Above all, it is very romantic.
Last night’s (Thursday) Europa League tie, played out against the Bale intrigue, illustrates the malaise the Welshman is walking into.
Mourinho made four changes from the opening day defeat against Everton. The out of sorts Dele Alli and Toby Alderweireld left back in north London, while Davinson Sanchez was drafted in alongside Eric Dier at centre back.
Lo Celso got a start with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Matt Doherty played on the right and Kane, Heung-min Son and Steven Bergwijn were up front.
Spurs had three good opportunities in the first half that, had they got the rub of the green, would have made it a cake walk: Son went close on two minutes and Bergwijn hit the bar. The Dutch winger was then fouled in the box, a stone cold penalty on any other day.
But this is Spurs: instead, it was the Bulgarians who took the lead – Georgi Minchev coming off the bench to head home from close range on 71 minutes.
With the lead Lokomotiv were more than willing to launch the occasional counter-attack as they defended deep and in numbers. A tactic that proved a lot harder after the home side had two players sent off.
Spurs survived a scare thanks to a Kane penalty and Ndombele’s 85th-minute winner.
Back in the day, Bale played in a likeable Tottenham team, but one that never really offered other individuals who could match his abilities.
That has often been the case at Spurs: false dawns caused by one or two really good footballers, let down by likeable journeymen.
This time, on paper, Bale is surrounded by teammates that have plenty of talent but have lost their way.
The decline of this side needs to be recognised, and the evolution into Poch Mark II, managed by Mourinho, needs to start with Bale’s arrival.
A caveat with this return must be that the fans are realistic (yeah, right). He has to get match fit and used to the Premier League pace once again.
And where does this marquee signing take us? Will it be like Ginola, or Klinsmann, Lineker and Gazza? A world-class player in a team rationed of similar talents?
Will he prove to be a sop for the fanbase, someone who will turn on moments of memorable magic for us to enjoy, but then, we’ll ultimately still finish fourth or fifth and lose semi-finals every year?
Or will he be able to bring the best out of Kane, Alli, Son, Ndombele, Lo Celso – and make us genuine challengers in the league and bag a cup or two along the way?
Whatever the outcome, I’ll take it. The last 24 hours have given Spurs fans across the globe a sense of beautiful romance.
Today, barring some crazy, Spursy disaster, Gareth Bale is back. He was, you see, born to play for Spurs.
Lokomotiv: Lukov, Masoero, Almeida, Karagaren, Umarhayev (Minchev, 68), Vitanov (Mihaljevic, 81), Tsvetanov, Salinas, Aralica (Ilic, 68), Iliev
Substitutes not used: Pirgov, Muslimovic, Pugliese, Nikolaev
Spurs: Lloris, Doherty, Davies, Dier, Sanchez (Moura, 73), Hojbjerg, Sissoko (Ndombele, 61), Lo Celso, Son, Bergwijn (Lamela, 70 ), Kane
Substitutes not used: Hart, Winks, Sessegnon, Carter-Vickers.