At the end of the week, just when I thought we were witnessing the beginning of the end for Gareth Bale at Tottenham, he gave us an insight into why it may not be over for him after all.
I’ve been watching Bale for most of this season. I thought my former Spurs teammate would be happy to come on as a substitute and just run around – that’s what disappointed me the most, given his qualities.
It was a different story at Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
The highlight of Bale’s 18 minutes against Manchester City was of course his dribble with three men that ended with a shot that forced Ederson into a good save.
But I also noticed a moment when he came back into the midfield and turned to his defense and yelled at them to get on the field.
There were a few more little things like that – not a flash of fabulous skill, but a little attitude or intention – that made me wonder, wait, does he really care here. He cares.
It was the least I expected of Bale when he was loaned by Real Madrid to the Spurs in September, but in all the time he was there, those moments were too rare and too far-fetched.
In two Premier League starts for Spurs this season and five other appearances on the bench, Bale scored one goal – the winner against Brighton on November 1 – and provided no assists in 249 minutes.
As we saw at the Etihad Stadium, he is still a ridiculous talent. We just need to get him playing soccer like he does in Wales. I hope it can be done at Spurs, but I think only Bale knows that.
What he has to show for it now is more of a hunger. Without him, his amazing career might end with easy groans, and Bale’s great talent deserves much more.
What is the next step?
Bale’s social position is at odds with reality – Mourinho
Even without knowing all the details, it is clear that there were problems between Bale and his manager Jose Mourinho after seeing what happened last week.
When a manager talks about a player’s social media posts and says they are wrong – in this case, Mourinho responds when Bale says on Instagram that he had a good workout before missing Tottenham’s FA Cup defeat to Everton midweek – there is a 100% problem.
Bale, who Mourinho and Spurs fans were probably waiting for when he signed in September, never lived up to it. From the player’s point of view, he may not agree with the way Mourinho wants to play or the way he tried to handle it.
What do we do now? What we saw from Bale on Saturday is a sign that he and Jose can settle their differences, and that Bale can start other games.
Or will it go wrong again and we will see even less Bale than before?
We will know in the coming weeks.
Being a third replacement is not Mourinho.
In Tottenham’s first substitution against City, Moussa Sissoko replaced Lucas Moura at halftime, Dele Alli replaced Tanguy Ndombele in the 64th minute and Bale replaced Erik Lamela in the 72nd minute.
I saw a lot when Bale was changed against City – he was Mourinho’s third and final substitute when Spurs were already trailing 3-0 – but you can only speculate on the Tottenham manager’s thought process there.
If their relationship was really falling apart, then maybe Mourinho knew that his team was very tired and had a tight schedule, so Bale and Dele Alli – who was also out of favour – only appeared because he thought the game was over, so he drafted two players he might not use again.
I don’t think so. Personally, I think he made that change based on what was happening in the match – and it had nothing to do with the order Bale was playing in.
For example, when he replaced Moussa Sissoko at halftime, it was 1-0 and Mourinho probably thought that we should just stay in the game and when we do that, things can happen.
It’s not a sleeping pill for Bale, nor is he trying to get back into the game. All you have to do is bench him or take him out of the team altogether to make it work.
Time to play with pain?
Jens and Bale were teammates at Tottenham Hotspur from 2007 to 2013, when Bale moved to Real Madrid for a record £85 million.
As I said on the Social Football show on 5 Live last week: If people expect to see the same Gareth Bale that was there when I was with him at Spurs, they are stupid.
Given the few games he has played in his last two seasons at Real Madrid, the fact that he hasn’t played regularly for a long time doesn’t help. He’s 31 years old now, he’s been injured and he’s not the kind of player who would tear teams apart in my day.
What I expected, and what he hasn’t shown so far, is that he comes back with an attitude that says, “I know how to win at the highest level, and I’m going to help you do the same.”
Actually, I wanted him to say, “Spurs put me on the world stage. Now I’m going to take all this experience to the club I love and show you how it’s done”.
But that can still happen, as Spurs still have plenty of opportunities this season to be in the race for the top four, as well as reach the Carabao Cup final and try to win the Europa League.
If he shows the same attitude as in the game against City, even if the game is already lost, Bale can still be heard from.
Running can make a difference.
Bale has only played two Premier League games this season, in the 1-0 win against West Brom in November and the 1-0 defeat against Brighton on January 31, where he was substituted after 61 minutes. In total, he played 16 games in all competitions and scored four goals. He only played 90 minutes once, against Wycombe in the FA Cup.
Spurs fans must have seen Bale on Saturday and thought “we need to use him more,” but that is partly due to the player himself.
I know that when I played with him at Spurs under Harry Redknapp, he was one of those players who suffered if he got hit a little bit, and if it was his ankle or his knee, he couldn’t play.
Harry just ignored him and said, “Go away.” Somehow José had to do something similar now.
Before Saturday, Bale had shown nothing to Mourinho when he made his Premier League debut, and not even when he recently brought him off the bench.
Yes, Bale can turn around and say it’s because he didn’t have a run of games to find a rhythm.
But in Mourinho’s defense: From what I’ve seen, Bale didn’t really deserve this chance.
I hope that what we saw at Etihad, with a bit of a delay, can be the start of something for him at Spurs, because I think he has so much more to offer – if he wants it badly enough.
Jermaine Jenas spoke with athlete Chris Bevan.