A fully fit Gareth Bale could get in any team in the world, said Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho after his match-winning performance in the 4-0 win over Burnley – so is this the renaissance of the Wales forward?
Just weeks ago the 31-year-old’s season-long loan – meant to be a romantic homecoming after a couple of years out of the Real Madrid team – seemed to be petering out.
He had started just two Premier League matches, and three of his four goals had come in cup games.
On 17 February Bale’s own agent said he was not playing regularly because “he’s towards the end of his career”.
In the 11 days since then Bale has played four games, scoring four goals and setting up another three – including two goals and an assist in Sunday’s resounding victory.
Why did it take so long for Bale to get going?
Bale scored 105 goals and won four Champions Leagues in his seven years at Real Madrid, but his final season was ruined by a mix of injuries and a resulting lack of form.
The start of his second spell at Spurs started with a knee problem and it has taken months for him to get going, leading to reports of a fallout with Mourinho.
“Sometimes people write things, and sometimes, some of you like to imagine stories, you need to write stories and sometimes you like to say things that are not really true, but there is not one single manager in the world that doesn’t play Gareth Bale if Gareth Bale is in very good condition,” said Mourinho after the win over the Clarets.
“Now he is better than ever. It’s not just about the two goals he scored, it’s fundamentally about his physical performance. Now he’s not flat.”
Bale told BBC Sport after the game: “I’ve been happy all season. In the dressing room I feel comfortable and I’m having fun. I’m happy and I’m sure it’s showing on the pitch.”
Dizz tweeted #bbcfootball to say: “What a coincidence that when you give Bale game time, he starts to play well. Don’t praise Mourinho, he should have known this months ago.”
But Rachel T said: “Kudos to Jose for the way he has managed Bale – blatantly, wildly unfit when he returned, but he is nicely at boiling point now for the run in!”
How good has Bale’s form been?
Bale has had a hand in seven Spurs goals in his past four games, more than doubling his tally for the season.
Mourinho told BBC Radio 5 Live: “It’s the best Bale that we have had during this season, more confidence, better condition, no bad feelings with injuries.
“I’m happy for Gareth because he is a Spurs boy and it means a lot for him to bring happiness to the fans.”
Although Dom in London texted in to BBC Sport: “Gareth Bale has now done it against those giants of the football world: Wolfsberger and Burnley. Truly, he is on top again.”
Is it too soon to say Bale is back?
Mourinho admitted that if Bale was really back to playing at his peak, he would still be at the Bernabeu.
He told BBC Sport: “We know the quality he has. I don’t want to say that [he is 100% back to his best]. We don’t need the Gareth Bale of five or six years ago. That player wouldn’t be here – he’d be at Real Madrid.”
Former Crystal Palace and Republic of Ireland striker Clinton Morrison was at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium watching the game for BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Some of those people saying Gareth Bale is back need to chill a bit, it’s one game,” he said.
“There are signs that he is getting back to his best and it was a good performance from him, a good 70 minutes but Spurs fans want to see that on a regular basis.
“I definitely think there’s still more to come from Gareth Bale once he gets up to fitness.”
Urban Bourbon tweeted: “I’d be very wary of claiming Bale is back if I was a Spurs fan – since he’s left you, he’s consistently shown an inability to keep up effort levels to justify continued selection.”
How is Bale’s fitness now?
Mourinho says he will be guided by Bale on how often he can play. He was replaced by Erik Lamela after 70 minutes on Sunday.
He has only lasted longer than that in three games this season.
“His knowledge of his body and his feelings are going to be fundamental,” Mourinho said.
“A player that gives me this kind of performance, of course I want to play him on Thursday and on Sunday, and I want to play him next week against Dinamo Zagreb but I don’t think I can.”
Could he stay?
Earlier this year it looked unlikely that Spurs would extend Bale’s loan spell. He has one season left on his contract at Real Madrid.
But his recent form could change that – although there has been no official word from the club.
One thing we do know is what Spurs fans want. In Sunday’s live text commentary we asked whether they wanted Bale to stay next season and 3,346 said yes, with 643 saying no.