When the news broke that Tottenham were in advanced talks to bring Gareth Bale back to the club for the 2020-21 season, it brought a certain feel-good feeling to the North London club that had perhaps been lacking in the last year or so. After all, Bale is a club legend – a player who rose from mediocrity, and seemingly stunted potential, to eventually become one of the best players in the world, earning a big-money move to Real Madrid where he won titles galore, including four Champions League winners medals.
He is a big name, a player who causes the cynical football fan to look up from their newspaper or phone and raise their eyebrows in approval. At the face of it, it’s a deal that helps Spurs greatly – signing a world-renowned player who will improve the team and create a buzz among the supporters, hopefully making the team more fancied in the odds on every betting exchange.
But beneath those basic truths, there are perhaps more doubts involved in Bale’s return to Tottenham than might appear at surface level. For one, the Welshman has been largely frozen out by Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, struggling for first-team football and seemingly being content to play golf and collect his exorbitant salary. Something has obviously changed in Bale’s mind to make him desire a move, but his lack of real involvement at the Spanish giants could be a concern to Tottenham head coach José Mourinho.
Then there is Bale’s age. At 31, he is perhaps past the true peak of his powers, and arguably only has a couple more years playing at his highest level. It’s a gamble in the sense that adding an older player to a squad that has relatively youthful options in these areas could breed discontent among the playing staff.
It’s been clear for a while that there is something missing at Tottenham, but whether Bale is the answer to those problems remains to be seen. After all, it’s barely a year and a half since Spurs were competing in a Champions League final, but anyone who watched the recently-aired Amazon documentary about the club will know how far standards fell last season. The documentary portrays Spurs’ vain attempt to clamber back into the top four as dramatically as is possible, but the reality is that the team were an abject example of mediocrity in the 2019-20 campaign.
So, is the arrival of Bale merely a smoke screen sent forth by chairman Daniel Levy to show that Tottenham are a club still intent on competing at the top table of football, or does it only serve to paper over the cracks that have been gradually growing at Spurs since the start of last season?
Bale undoubtedly still has the potential to produce moments of magic that few players in the Spurs squad can match, but it remains to be seen how consistently he can perform to the high standards expected of him. Moving from a team where winning is a culture, and comes as naturally as breathing, to one that won less than half of their league games last season will be a shock for the Welshman, and he’ll need to re-adapt quickly to the intensity of the Premier League if he is concede.
Either way, it’s hard to envisage that the signing of Bale will have a real impact on Tottenham’s ability to challenge for the top four, let alone the title, and it would be no surprise to see the same old problems plaguing Mourinho’s side this year as they did last season.