Jose Mourinho insists Tottenham fans cannot expect Gareth Bale to be the same player that he was seven years ago because even Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – the best two players in world football over that time – have massively changed their game since 2013 too. Bale is still waiting to make his first real impact since returning to Spurs.
A fan favourite in his previous spell with the north London club, the season-long loan signing of Bale was greeted by huge excitement among Spurs supporters.
The Welshman had to wait to make his second debut but has now played in three of their last four Premier League and Europa League matches as he looks to get back up to full speed.
Mourinho said of Bale earlier this week: “We all have not just the feeling but also the data that Bale is arriving. He’s working very hard. He’s been quite a great example for everybody.
“A big guy like him travelled to Burnley, stayed on the bench for 90 minutes, didn’t play one minute. His behaviour as a team guy is incredible. His behaviour as a Tottenham man is remarkable and he is coming.
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“I can see just with my eyes but then the scientific data is also coming and he’s working very well. He’s improving a lot and I think tomorrow we can see already Gareth at a good level and hopefully he can fly because he’s working very hard.”
But despite those comments, he failed to impress in Thursday’s Europa League loss to Royal Antwerp and was hooked for Harry Kane after an hour.
Having struggled for game time at Real Madrid under Zinedine Zidane, there are question marks as to what level Bale can get up to back in England.
The 31-year-old was a two-time PFA Players’ Player of the Year in his previous spell in the Premier League and was Spurs’ stand-out star before a world-record £85million move to the Bernabeu.
His final Spurs campaign saw him muster 26 goals and 15 assists in 44 games across all competitions, including 21 league goals with only Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez managing more.
But Mourinho admits the Londoners cannot afford to expect the same explosive Bale to return this season even once he finally gets back into his rhythm, because even the likes of Barcelona ace Messi and Juventus attacker Ronaldo – who also starred for Real Madrid alongside Bale – have had to adapt their game as they age.
“Seven years is a long, long, long gap,” the Portuguese coach said, referring to Bale’s previous spell at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
“So which player in the world is the same as he was seven years ago? Sometimes they’re not better or worse, they’re just different players.
“For example you look to [Cristiano] Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi, and compare them with seven years ago. They play in different areas, different positions.
“They transform their qualities to try and explore their qualities in other responsibilities in the tactical system of their teams.
“I think it happens with the majority of the players, so for sure he is a different player.”
Though Bale failed to have an impact in Belgium, Mourinho added: “Every word that I told [on Wednesday] I believe in them because he is working very, very hard. He is improving.”
Former Tottenham midfielder Jamie O’Hara has suggested Mourinho ought to try utilising Bale as a No 10 to combat the Wales international’s decline in pace.
“He looks like he’s lost half a yard of pace a little bit,” O’Hara told talkSPORT. “He just looks like he’s definitely not fit enough yet and obviously you can get fitness back, he’s older now.
“I think he’s going to have to adapt his game because that blistering pace we used to see of him, I’m not sure he’s going to get that back.
“I think it’s a little bit like Ryan Giggs, when Ryan Giggs all of a sudden started losing a bit of pace he came more inside.
“I don’t know if Gareth Bale is more suited as playing a number 10 now.”
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