Returning Players: Gareth Bale

Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ Series. In this edition, we take a look at Gareth Bale.

Bale turned out for Tottenham Hotspur between 2007 and 2013 and made a dramatic return to the club in 2020.

Returning Players – Gareth Bale

First Spell at Tottenham

Gareth Bale joined Tottenham Hotspur in 2007 from Southampton aged 18. As a left-back, he had started to shine for the south coast club and caught the eye of the then Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp. The start to his Spurs career was not what Bale would have wanted though with injuries blighting life at his new club.

A major ligament injury to his right ankle following a challenge with Birmingham City’s Fabrice Muamba led to Bale missing the rest of his first season at Spurs. Then, in 2009, Bale had to have surgery on his knee and he missed another two months of first-team football.

Injuries were one thing, but when Bale could play, he managed not to be on any Spurs winning team until he came on against Burnley in a 5-0 victory as a late substitute. Much was expected of Bale but luck was not on his side. That would all start to change though in 2010.

Bale won the BBC Goal of the Month award for an outrageous volley against Stoke City in the Premier League and his form started to get better and better. On October 20, 2010, Bale came of age as he scored a sensational hat trick against Inter Milan in the Champions League.

At the end of the 2012/13 season, Bale won the PFA Players’ player of the year and the Young Player of the Year awards. The awards kept on coming and the Football Writers’ Association made him their player of the year as well. This was another incredible hat trick for Bale and one that had only been achieved by one player before him – Cristiano Ronaldo.

Real Madrid

The lure of Spain and Real Madrid was too much for Bale to turn down and as much as Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy tried to keep his Welsh wizard, ultimately the player was not going to play for Tottenham again. Well, not just yet.

Bale’s power and athleticism were soon wowing fans of Real. Some media attempted to suggest that there was a poor relationship between Bale and megastar Cristiano Ronaldo but Ronaldo himself referred to Bale as being “amazing.”

Bale had become part of one of the most terrifying and prolific strike forces in world football. Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema all attacking teams and terrifying defences. Between them, they scored 200 goals in two years.

Bale’s biggest successes came in the Champions League, which he won four times with Madrid. In the 2018 final against Liverpool, Bale was a substitute and came on in the 61st minute of the game and ended up being the man of the match such was the impact he had.

Bale scored twice in that match but it will always be the first goal that he will be remembered for. A stunning overhead kick just about summed the incredible talent the Welshman had become.

Twelve trophies at Madrid is nothing short of astonishing but the relationship between Bale and manager Zinedine Zidane was already breaking down. Zidane left Madrid in 2018 but returned as manager in March of 2020 and Bale was isolated and a player needing a new club. That new club was to be a familiar one.

Return to Tottenham Hotspur

Very few transfer windows went past without Bale being linked with a move back to Tottenham Hotspur, until in September 2020 he did become one of the many returning players to head back ‘home’. Bale was ready to bring his winning mentality to his former club.

Spurs are without a trophy for 13 years, Bale was struggling to get game time and Spurs had serial winner Jose Mourinho at the helm. It seemed to be a match made in heaven.

Bale’s Impact on His Return to Tottenham Hotspur

The returning Gareth Bale has not had the desired impact at Spurs. He has played just 19 times and started only 11 times in all competitions, with just three coming in the Premier League.

A headed goal that proved to be the winner at home to Brighton & Hove Albion had proved to be the biggest impact Bale has made for Spurs since his return. However, his during his last start – a 4-0 win over Burnley on Sunday – Bale netted twice and laid on on assist.

Bale’s first spell in North London can never be taken away from him. Can he still become a returning legend and fire Spurs to success this season? Only time can now tell what is next for Bale who so far is proving that returning players don’t always succeed.

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