OLIVER HOLT: Where is Gareth Bale's hunger to prove himself?

OLIVER HOLT: Gareth Bale has been a humiliating and expensive bust at Tottenham this season in what looks to be a public relations stunt gone wrong…. where is the hunger to prove his talent?

  • Gareth Bale’s return to Tottenham has not gone to plan so far this season
  • The Wales winger has largely been left out by Spurs manager Jose Mourinho 
  • The 31-year-old does not appear to possess the hunger to fight for his place
  • Mourinho picks players based on merit and Bale has been forced to watch on 

The second coming of Gareth Bale was not meant to be like this. 

He was supposed to be the final piece in a glorious attacking trident at Spurs who would light up the Premier League and take us all back a decade to when he terrorised Inter Milan and became the best player in England. 

This was supposed to be a triumphant homecoming after he had conquered the world with Real Madrid.

Gareth Bale’s return to Tottenham on loan from Real Madrid has not worked out as planned

The Welsh winger (left) has largely been left on the sidelines by Spurs boss Jose Mourinho

Except it hasn’t turned out like that. The exuberant cry of ‘Taxi for Maicon’ summed up the Welshman’s brilliance once but it is a distant memory. ‘Taxi for Bale’ seems more appropriate, sadly. A taxi all the way back to Madrid. 

The Spanish giants were cast as ungrateful wretches for their classless treatment of him but it is hard to argue now that their judgment was wrong.

Bale is one of the greatest players these islands have ever produced, certainly one of the most decorated in terms of the Champions League medals he has won and nothing will change that but there is sadness about seeing him sitting in the stands at Spurs, adrift in Jose Mourinho’s wide sea of joylessness, wearing that faintly bemused expression that has become familiar since he fell from grace at Madrid.

Bale’s return to Spurs was billed as a  triumphant homecoming after his time at Real Madrid

It has got to the point where Bale only plays either when Spurs are desperate or the opposition is not really up to much.

He was intended as a luxury item but Mourinho doesn’t do luxury items so he has shoved him to the back of the shelf with the remaindered goods. 

We may not be far from the moment where Bale stands on the pitch after an international with grinning team-mates and a sign that says: ‘Wales, Golf, Spurs: in that order.’

Bale’s your go-to-guy for Ludogorets and LASK Linz and he’s good for a half-hour against Marine in the FA Cup but when the big games come around he tends to spend most of the time as a spectator. 

Mourinho threw him in against Brighton last week when Harry Kane was out with injury and it didn’t work. Bale lasted an hour in a poor team performance. Then he was substituted.

Manager Mourinho (right) has largely been unimpressed by Bale’s Premier League outings

Maybe he’ll get a chance against West Brom on Sunday lunchtime. West Brom might fit the profile of teams Bale is trusted to play against: struggling near the bottom of the table with a defence that has shipped 52 goals, more than anyone in the top four divisions. This one’s got Bale’s name written all over it.

It would be lovely if he played and even better if he excelled and better still if there were Spurs fans there to see it. Saying you saw Gareth Bale play still means something. 

But it does not seem as if he has the hunger any more, not the hunger he once had anyway. 

Not everyone has the inner drive and insatiable work ethic of Cristiano Ronaldo. Bale is 31. Perhaps he is just too balanced a human being to want to sacrifice his life for football any longer.

Bale does not appear to have the hunger that saw him conquer the world at Real Madrid

Some are starting to train their sights on Bale and question his commitment but he made it plain some time ago that he favoured a move from the Bernabeu to China and it was obvious then which way he saw his career heading. China offered big money and a lower standard where he could still excel. He didn’t try to hide that.

It’s not Mourinho’s fault, either. He does not favour an expansive style that might provide a better platform for a player of Bale’s waning talents but it is not as if that has come as a surprise to anyone. 

Whatever you think of his style, Mourinho picks players on their merits. If he thinks a player is going to help him get results, he plays him. He calls the shots. Bale doesn’t fit the profile.

The longer the season goes on and the longer Bale is marginalised, the more it looks as if his arrival was a public relations stunt gone wrong. 

Mourinho (left) mainly picks his players on merit and Bale (right) has largely been left out

It feels like a misguided sop to a fanbase uneasy about the departure of Mauricio Pochettino and worried that Mourinho was a manager past his sell-by date.

Bale was a sticking plaster to cover a gaping wound. A triumph for image over reality. Mourinho’s best days have gone and so have Bale’s. Together, it is hard to argue that they have been anything other than a marriage made in hell.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect is that Bale’s move was sanctioned by Spurs’ chairman Daniel Levy, the king of the deal, a man admired throughout the game for his ability to sniff out a bargain in the transfer market and for his clever husbandry of Tottenham.

By his standards, the loan signing of Bale has been an expensive and humiliating bust. Upwards of £10million in wages for a bloke to sit on the bench most of the season doesn’t seem like much of a bargain to me. Now, things have switched and Bale’s presence has become a source of rancour rather than a force for unity.

Bale is being paid more than £10million to sit on the bench and play in cup matches

When TV presenter and reporter Alison Bender asked Mourinho after the defeat by Chelsea why Bale had been an unused substitute, Mourinho switched to the unpleasant, personal, demeaning attack mode he favours when things are going wrong.

‘Good question, he snapped, ‘but you don’t deserve an answer.’ Stay classy, Jose.

The irony is that Bale was signed as the vehicle Mourinho could use in his journey back to relevance. At a club that prizes attractive football, Bale was to be the camouflage for his manager’s outmoded philosophy. 

Instead, two greats of the game are racing each other to its exit door.

No shame for Messi over wages

How much Lionel Messi is paid by Barcelona is a private affair so it is little surprise that he is upset that his wage deal was leaked to El Mundo.

But there is nothing for Messi to be ashamed of. Nobody forced Barcelona to pay Messi such a lavish salary. It was their choice. 

And if Messi has got rich off them, then they should have got rich off him, too.

For a decade now, he has been the greatest attraction in sport anywhere. 

If the club have mismanaged the income they have attracted from Messi’s genius, it is their fault, not his.

Lionel Messi’s wages and financial situation were leaked by Spanish newspaper El Mundo

Channel 4 root of my escapism

The first time I went to India, more than 12 years ago, I saw Sachin Tendulkar complete an unbeaten century in the Chepauk Stadium in Chennai and inspire India to an emotional victory a few weeks after terrorist attacks had wrought carnage in Mumbai.

I loved that trip, walking along the endless sands of Marina Beach and watching myriad games of cricket taking place there, sensing for the first time the depth of love there is for the sport in India.

So being able to get up early in the morning these last few days and switch on Channel 4’s coverage and watch Joe Root bat and see the cameras panning out above the stadium to give us views of the beach and the ocean has felt like one of the most glorious forms of escapism.

I have heard some criticism of Channel 4’s coverage, because it is not quite up to Sky’s level. But I won’t entertain any carping about Channel 4’s production. 

They made the commitment to show the series when others were conspicuous by their absence. For that we owe them a debt of gratitude.

Joe Root picking up a double century in England’s tour of India proved the perfect escapism




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