Jose Mourinho and Gareth Bale had always seemed to be the football connection that was destined never to happen. Once at Real Madrid, and for two successive summers at Manchester United, Mourinho tried and failed to add the Wales winger to his squad.
In so many ways, Bale was, and is, a classic Mourinho player. He is athletic, physically imposing, has pace, undoubted quality and knows how to win. He was a rising star when Mourinho first attempted to sign him for Real in 2012 and a proven world-class performer when the Portuguese identified him as having the winning mentality he was so desperate to inject into his United squad in 2016 and 2017.
Each time, the stars did not align sufficiently for a deal to happen, but Mourinho’s long wait is finally over, with confirmation that Tottenham Hotspur have re-signed the player that they sold to Madrid for a then-world-record fee of £85.3 million in August 2013. And now that the two men are set to work together at Spurs, the timing could not be better for both of them.
Bale needed rescuing from his increasingly fruitless existence in the Spanish capital, where he had fallen so far out of the picture under coach Zinedine Zidane that he failed to earn a seat on the plane for the Champions League round-of-16 second leg against Manchester City at the Etihad last month. That omission from the squad was hardly an isolated incident, but it was confirmation for Bale, if he needed it, that he had to get away from Madrid.
The fact that his new club just happens to be his old club is perfect for Bale, with sources close to the player telling ESPN that he places a significant value on familiarity and the ability to feel wanted, at home, among friends, wherever he plays. Those close to Bale within the Wales squad point to his enthusiasm when reporting for international duty and how he has never hidden the importance he places on representing his country. Wales has been something of a refuge when times have been tough at Real.
Being around familiar faces again is a major factor in his decision to head back to the club where he made his name. Playing for Mourinho, a coach who has always made clear his admiration of Bale, is another key element in his decision to choose Spurs over the alternative option of waiting for United to put an offer on the table.
But don’t be fooled into believing that Bale only had eyes for Tottenham. Sources have told ESPN that he was attracted by the prospect of playing for United — he turned down a move to Old Trafford when leaving Southampton for Spurs in 2007 as well as rejecting United in favour of Madrid six years later — but having been told he was only a backup in the event of their failure to sign Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund, the 31-year-old opted instead to take the guaranteed offer of first-team football at Spurs. But if United had been able to do a deal immediately, sources have said that Bale would have been tempted to head to Manchester rather than return to Spurs.
As reported by ESPN, there are those at Real who tried to warn Mourinho away from a move for Bale, with the Spurs manager’s former associates at the Bernabeu making it clear that they doubt the player’s ability to rediscover his best form after two disappointing seasons in Madrid since scoring twice in the 2018 Champions League final victory against Liverpool. Real believe that Bale’s injuries have caught up with him, but Mourinho is confident that a return to north London will revitalise the player and also bring some much-needed big-game experience to his squad.
Mourinho wants Bale to add goals and attacking threat, but he also places great value on his ability to inspire his new teammates and sharpen the desire of a squad that the former Chelsea, Real and United manager believes lacks the drive and desire to win major honours. Bale has that hunger in abundance and he also wants to be part of a Spurs team that realises its potential by winning the club’s first trophy since the EFL Cup in 2007-08.
And the importance of being fit and in form when Wales take part in the delayed Euro 2020 next summer is another reason why Bale has chosen to head back to the Premier League, despite having two years left to run on his Madrid contract. Wales manager Ryan Giggs has made it clear to both Bale and Aaron Ramsey, who started just 11 Serie A games for Juventus last season, that he wants them playing regular first-team football this season and, by signing for Spurs, Bale has given himself a far greater chance of doing that than if he had stayed in Madrid.
Mourinho has given Bale that opportunity, but this is a move whereby both player and manager can help each other. If the long-awaited Mourinho-Bale alliance is a success, it will only be good news for Tottenham. But time will tell whether their alliance has come too late for both men to achieve what they really want from the move.