At the end of March, Gareth Bale made the shock announcement that he plans to return to Real Madrid following his one-year loan deal at his former club Tottenham Hotspur.
It was certainly a surprise to hear the Welsh international make such a statement, especially given his lack of game time at the La Liga side over the last few seasons and his relationship with Madrid’s manager Zinedine Zidane, which has lain in tatters for a while now.
However, a lot has changed at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium since then. José Mourinho has been replaced at the helm by Bale’s former teammate Ryan Mason and the 31-year-old has reaped the rewards of being thrown back into the starting XI by the 29-year-old coach.
Bale has started both of Spurs’ Premier League games under Mason thus far and has played a pivotal role in turning the tide back in the favour of the north London side – making them much more fancied in the Premier League winner odds in the process.
Following Danny Ings’ opener, the winger levelled the scores in the second half against Southampton in Mason’s first game, before Son Heung-Min’s penalty confirmed all three points for Spurs for the first time in four league outings. However, it was against Sheffield United that Bale performed arguably to be the best standard since returning to north London from Madrid last summer.
The 31-year-old gave Spurs the lead in the 36th minute before two goals in 10 minutes in the second half, securing his first hat-trick in a Tottenham shirt since his three strikes against Aston Villa in 2012. Yet, while he’s showing now why Spurs fans were so excited to have him back at the beginning of the season, there is a sense that it’s too late — a case of what could have been.
When Bale arrived, it was evident that a lack of game time in Spain had taken its toll on his fitness levels. Although, even when back to full fitness, he was used somewhat sparingly by Mourinho, who preferred the defensive work rate of the likes of Son and Harry Kane. Perhaps being a bit-part player is why he felt as though he needed to return to Madrid.
Under Mason, however, he is proving his worth and you can see from his performances and body language, both on the pitch and off it, that he is a much happier player. That was evident in his post-match interviewing following the victory at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium against the Blades.
“Winning always makes everyone happy and gives a winning mentality to the dressing room,” Bale said. “It’s not going to happen overnight but I feel like we’re taking a step in the right direction.
“Obviously you have to take your chances when they come, and thankfully I had a few tonight. I’m feeling good. As I’ve said before I just needed to play games and get a run of games and I’m doing that now, so I’m happy and when I’m happy I normally play well.”
The Tottenham dressing room is clearly in a much better place now Mourinho is gone and there’s no doubt Bale is enjoying playing under Mason. It’s believed that Daniel Levy is going to give Spurs’ next permanent manager the option of signing Bale permanently, and should he carry on this fine form for the remaining few weeks of the season, you’d imagine whoever Tottenham’s next boss is will jump at the opportunity.