After seven long years in Madrid, Gareth Bale has made an incredible return to Tottenham Hotspur.
While previous rumours of his return to England have never felt genuine, this one always seemed very, very real.
The parable of the prodigal son tells of a father and his two sons, and how the younger son asks for an early inheritance so he can be independent, but wastes it all on extravagance and must return home begging for forgiveness. When he is granted that forgiveness and his return is celebrated, it makes the elder son envious. But his father makes him realise that the younger son returning home is a redemption, not a failure and that was cause for the celebration.
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Gareth Bale pushed to leave Spurs in 2013. He felt his talents had outgrown White Hart Lane. And it’s hard to disagree. Crowned PFA Player’s Player of the Year, PFA Young Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Player of the Year for 2012/13, he was clearly the top dog.
One world-record fee later and Bale was in Madrid. In his first season he won the Champions League, scoring in the final. After three seasons he’d won two, after four he’d won three and added La Liga at long last. In his fifth season he won his fourth Champions League in five years, again being the match-winner, this time with an overhead kick and another long-range effort.
Gareth Bale Football Index Value: £2.57 (Sell) – £2.73 (Buy)
His next two seasons weren’t as productive. He did claim a second La Liga title in 2019/20, albeit while managing just 16 starts in La Liga. Not that it was ever plain sailing for Bale after the departure of Carlo Ancelotti in 2015 (in fact the 22 goals he scored in his debut season remains his highest total as a Madrid player) and he laboured particularly under Zinedine Zidane, but he still made it work.
That is, until Zidane’s return to the dugout in 2019. He and Bale could not see eye-to-eye, and rather than knuckle down and prove his coach wrong, Bale got unfocused and extravagant. He began to enjoy his golf, even made jokes about his priorities. Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order.
When Madrid were to play in the 2019/20 Champions League, Bale allegedly asked to be left out of the squad. It was a sad end to what had been, in terms of on-the-pitch success, a complete fairy tale. A total of 105 goals in 251 games is exceptionally impressive. Four Champions Leagues in seven years is absurd. It’s more than Manchester United have won in 142 years. And then we come to the number of big goals Bale scored, especially in cups. What Bale did to Marc Bartra in the 2014 Copa del Rey final was staggering dominance and the Spanish defender’s career never recovered.
But still, Gareth Bale does not return to England a failure. Fans of rival clubs (who would have all taken Bale in a heartbeat) need not lash out in jealousy like the elder brother in the parable. This transfer is a redemption. For Bale, the humble young lad who left to conquer the world and who did just that before getting a little lost, returns “home” to the club he still holds dear to his heart.
So Bale returns to a club that loves him, to fans that love him, to a coach that loves him (and tried to sign him for two previous employers). Fitness permitting, he will be a featured player in a way he hasn’t been for half a decade. A fully appreciated and beloved star. He’ll play all the time (fitness permitting), hoping to lead Spurs to glory and, at the very least, build his sharpness and momentum just in time for Euro 2021.
The prodigal son has returned.