There was a moment in yesterday’s game between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur when Gareth Bale took everyone by surprise.
After crashing a shot against a Manchester City defender, Bale collected the loose ball and slalomed around three players before flashing another effort on goal that was well-saved by goalkeeper Ederson.
It is a measure of how underwhelming the Welshman’s return to Tottenham Hotspur has been that this sudden flash of talent was remarkable.
Spurs were 0-3 down when Bale was introduced and even then it was more to give Eric Lamela a breather than change the game.
In the lead-up to the clash, Bale had also attracted attention, unfortunately not in connection to his play.
Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho decided to publicly call him out over an Instagram post.
The former Chelsea boss, who joined the social media platform last year, was unhappy about a picture uploaded on Bale’s account on Wednesday of the Welshman training captioned “Good session today.”
“There was a contradiction between the post and the reality,” Mourinho told his press conference ahead of the Manchester City game.
“Since the beginning of the season, in relation to everything, I’ve tried to be very private and keep everything indoors, but I felt that I needed to address the situation.
“Probably the post was not even his responsibility, but it was showing that training session was ‘great’ and ‘I’m ready’ which was totally wrong. So when questioned I had to give the reality of things.”
The fact Mourinho was debating whether Bale was the one who published the image suggests he had not spoken to him about it.
Even if he had, the intent was the same; he wanted to send a message to Bale that everyone heard: you need to better.
Mourinho’s tactic of publicly criticizing his players in the past few years has had mixed results.
At Manchester United his public barbs directed at Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, amongst many others, baffled many observers and, as the team struggled, provided ammunition to his doubters.
Bale is arguably the most established player to receive this treatment from Mourinho.
The Welshman arrived as Tottenham Hotspurs’ marquee signing this summer; a former world-record transfer fee holder, four-time Champions League winner and former PFA Player of the Year.
His return to Tottenham Hotspur this summer as a bonafide superstar was considered a coup, bringing the crucial alternative in attack Spurs had lacked last season.
It just has not gone to plan.
Gareth Bale: What happened to the ‘winning mentality?’
When he signed for the club in September, Bale spoke about bringing his “winning mentality” to the Spurs.
“I feel like I have that kind of winning mentality, how to win trophies,” he said.
“Hopefully I can bring that to the dressing room, bring a bit more belief to everybody that we can win a trophy, and the target is to do that this season, to be fighting on every front possible. I want to bring that mentality here, back to Tottenham.”
It made sense for Spurs to focus on the intangible benefits. Bale arrived off the back of his worst season since leaving Tottenham seven years ago having managed a meager 20 appearances and just three goals.
His relationship with his employers Real Madrid had deteriorated to the point that he celebrated Wales’ November 2020 qualification to the European Championships by posing with a banner which described his list of priorities as “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that Order.”
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane demonstrated the extent to which he valued Bale by leaving him in Spain when his side visited Manchester City for the second-leg of the Champions League quarter final in August.
Despite all of this, more was expected from Bale.
He did arrive at Tottenham Hotspur injured, so a fast start was never on the cards.
But since he has regained fitness his role at Spurs is remarkably like Real Madrid, a player who is on the bench most of the time and features largely in the second-string eleven.
Just as happened in Spain, broadcasters cut to the Welshman in the stands or jogging along the touchline as commentators ask whether he will be the man Tottenham Hotspur call on to change a game.
More often than not Bale remains in his tracksuit and the sad spectacle of him being the most famous face on the substitutes bench is repeated the following week.
What is worse is that when he does make it on to the pitch, he often looks tentative and short on confidence, a shadow of his former self.
It is confusing for Spurs fans and Premier League
Hopefully, that flash of brilliance on Saturday against Manchester City was a sign that Bale still has it, Tottenham Hotspur and Jose Mourinho must hope it is.