Bale is back

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Gareth Bale is a different player to the one that left Tottenham as a sinewy athlete seven years ago… at 31, does the returning hero still have the fire and fitness?
Gareth Bale marked a sensational return to Spurs in a season-long loan deal
The 31-year-old became a superstar during his first spell at White Hart Lane
But a series of injuries and knocks make him a different player to the one that left
Bale will need careful looking after if Spurs are going to get the best out of him

There was a sense of giddy anticipation at Tottenham’s training ground last week as hordes of supporters flocked to welcome Gareth Bale as he arrived to finalise his sensational return.

Gleeful cheers and applause serenaded the Real Madrid winger’s arrival at Enfield. Camera phones flashed at a grinning Bale, while some fans snapped selfies through the car window.

You can understand the buzz. Bale is still a world superstar, a four-time Champions League winner, scoring in two finals. For Tottenham, a club now without Champions League football, on a quest for silverware and inspiration, what could be more exciting than the return of one of your greatest ever players? Even if he is going to cost £13million for the rest of the season, with Spurs paying at least half of his £500,000-a-week wages.

Spurs confirmed his signing from Real Madrid on Saturday, along with left-back Sergio Reguilon, for a fee that could rise to £32m.

Bale, who will wear the No9 shirt, said: ‘It’s nice to be back where I made my name. I always thought about returning. I’m hungry, I’m motivated I can’t wait to get started. I want to help the team win trophies. Hopefully I can bring a bit more belief back to the dressing room and that winning mentality.

‘I want to get us to the next level and that’s win trophies. To do it at Tottenham now would be a dream come true.’

The memories of Bale marauding down the Spurs wing at peerless speed, a blur past helpless defenders, firing in shots from all angles, is enough to get any Tottenham fan fired up. But that was seven years ago. Much has changed. Bale, 31, has changed. He is a different player now, still elite, but not the young, sinewy athlete who wowed White Hart Lane with his pace and power.

This is a Bale who has suffered knocks and is believed to be carrying a knee injury that will mean he will have to wait another month to play. Spurs face his former club Southampton on Sunday without him. This is a Bale who touches the ball less, dribbles less and shoots less. Last season was his worst return for goals and assists.

Yet this is also a Bale whose longest run of games last season for Zinedine Zidane was four. Of Madrid’s last 16 games, Bale featured in three. Among the others he spent on the bench, he was pictured yawning, pretending to nap with his face mask over his eyes and using a small tube as a makeshift telescope. A lack of desire versus a lack of motivation from a manager who clearly does not want you there.

Jose Mourinho wants him at Tottenham. Will that make the difference once Bale is fit? ‘If he was a car, the mileage in the last few years is well below the average because he hasn’t played 40 games a season,’ says Spurs legend Glenn Hoddle. ‘So the car is in good nick. The problem is — is the engine OK? I’m not worried about what he does on the pitch because he’ll be sensational but it’s about the engine in there.

‘It’s almost like being a pit stop with an F1 car. You’ve got to get him tuned right and protect him at the right times because Bale is one of those players who rely on their pace on and off the ball. It’s just about tuning that engine and I think he can still be as sensational as he was at Real Madrid and when he left Tottenham.’

In his last season at Spurs, he scored 21 goals and set up another four. Those who have played alongside him also believe Bale can make the difference. Luka Modric was a team-mate of Bale’s for 11 years at Spurs and in Madrid and said: ‘He is a great player. If he is fit mentally and prepared, he has two or three great playing years ahead of him.’

Hoddle added: ‘Hopefully, if we get enough football out of him and keep his body right, it will turn into silverware as well. That’s what Spurs fans want.’


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