By Lucas Wilson
Gareth Bale is somewhat of an enigma.
Beginning his career as a left-back at Southampton, Bale’s renown as a free-kick specialist quickly caught the attention of Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, a club to which he moved in 2007 for a fee of £5 million.
Spurs’ manager at the time, Harry Redknapp, clearly saw great potential in Bale, transforming him from a full-back with a penchant for moving up the pitch to a fully-fledged attacker capable of playing anywhere across the forward line.
He was most devastating on the right-wing. His physical yet pacey play – coupled with his exquisite ball control and skill – allowed him to rush past opposition defenders and whip in a dangerous looking cross or, even more lethally, turn inside onto his stronger foot and place the ball into the top corner of the net.
He was integral to the way Spurs played while he served at the club, propelling them into a promising Champions League campaign in the 2010-11 season in which they reached the quarterfinals, where they were bested by Real Madrid 5-0 on aggregate.
But alas, all good things must come to an end, and Bale signed for the team that had thrashed his own two years earlier, Real Madrid, in 2013 for a then-record breaking transfer fee of €100.8 million.
His scintillating form only continued on the continent, as he played a pivotal role in his team winning both the Copa del Rey and Champions League, scoring in both finals. His debut season ended with him having appeared in a forward line consisting of Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo who had 97 goals between them – Bale himself having scored 22, as well as assisting 16.
Unbeknownst to him, it was here where his career at Real (aside from THAT bicycle kick against Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final) was to take a significant downturn, as recurrent injury saw him repeatedly confined to the bench and tensions grew between him and manager Zinedine Zidane.
Bale gradually came to be viewed more negatively by the fans, a negativity which was only fuelled by the Spanish media who often pictured an all-too-casual looking Bale unwinding at the local golf course, and eventually, he made his desire to leave the club public.
This wish was granted in the 2020 summer transfer window, in which Bale joined his former team Spurs on a one-year loan deal. The general disinterest which characterised the latter stages of his career at Real swiftly transformed into excitement and anticipation, as to Tottenham fans everywhere it seemed as if their prodigal son had returned.
But things weren’t that easy.
Bale’s return to Spurs was one hamstrung by injury issues, which saw manager Jose Mourinho repeatedly placing him on the side-lines, making appearances sporadically as a substitute. Spurs wingers Lucas Moura, Erik Lamela and Steven Bergwijn were often placed on the team-sheet before him, leading many to believe that Bale’s time in the spotlight was over and that he would return to Real Madrid in the summer of 2021 just as frustrated as he was when he left.
Then the last couple of weeks happened.
Mourinho put his faith in Bale on the 18th February when Tottenham played Austrian outfit Wolfsberger AC in the Europa League, and this faith was justly rewarded in the way he performed, providing an assist to fellow winger Son Heung-Min and then following it up with a goal of his own, eventually leading his team to a resounding 4-1 victory.
This wasn’t the only occasion in which Bale was allowed to shine recently, however, as Mourinho once again played him in the starting XI, this time in the Premier League against Burnley.
If Bale hadn’t already made his claim to the right-wing position strikingly clear, he did here. Latching onto a forward-ball from Son, Bale poked his team ahead in the second minute and was instrumental in Spurs’ second goal, which saw Bale provide a stunning overhead ball to put striker Harry Kane through on goal for a smashing finish.
Bale’s involvement did not end there, however, as he put his famous left foot to good use once again, placing a composed shot into the left of the net, leaving a forlorn-looking Nick Pope between the sticks in the process.
This five-star performance was then followed up with another against Crystal Palace on Sunday evening, as the Welshman netted a brace to secure his fifth and sixth goal from his last six appearances in all competitions. Bale is back, and the Premier League knows it.
What remains to be seen, however, is if this drastic improvement in form is to continue – namely against more challenging opposition. Will Bale be as competent against teams competing for Champions League places alongside Tottenham?
Or is he a player past his prime at 31 years? And, perhaps most importantly, will Mourinho continue playing him on the right-wing ahead of players such as Moura and Lamela?
I hope that he does, as it is only through being given consistent game time that we will be able to see if Tottenham’s renowned ‘Welsh Wizard’ has finally rediscovered his magic.
Image: YÊU THỂ THAO via Flickr