LONDON (Reuters) - While Gareth Bale will be welcomed back with open arms by Tottenham Hotspur fans it will also be with a tinge of regret at what might have been had he never left the club.
When Real Madrid came knocking in 2013 armed with a 100-million-euro ($118.37 million) cheque, Bale was at his marauding all-action best, scoring spectacular solo goals and motoring down the flanks like a super-charged sportscar.
At times he was unplayable.
During his early years at Real Madrid he continued in the same vein, looking every inch the Galactico. In his first season he helped them win the Champions League, the first of four during his spell at the Bernabeu.
Meanwhile, back in London, something was stirring at Tottenham. In 2014, Mauricio Pochettino was hired to replace Andre Villas-Boas and over the next few seasons the Argentine transformed the club into serious title contenders.
With local boy Harry Kane replacing Bale as Tottenham’s talisman they battled Leicester City for the Premier League title in 2015-16, then went toe-to-toe with Chelsea the following season before finishing runners-up.
There was a League Cup final defeat and two runs to the FA Cup semi-finals. Then, in 2018-19, Tottenham defied the odds by reaching the Champions League final, losing to Liverpool.
Pochettino, sacked last season without having won a trophy, will surely wonder, just like the fans, how different things might have been with Bale completing the jigsaw puzzle.
The nagging fear is that the returning Bale, who has been bedevilled by injuries, is far from the force of nature he was when he left and that Tottenham, under former Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho, are in a downward drift.
They finished last season in sixth spot with their lowest points total for 11 years and began this campaign with a 1-0 home defeat by Everton before a messy 2-1 win at Bulgarians Lokomotiv Plovdiv in a Europa League qualifier.
Expecting Bale to single-handedly reignite Tottenham will be asking a lot, but there is no doubt that his homecoming will provide some much-needed optimism and lift the mood.
Tottenham still have a strong-looking squad and the prospect of Bale, who scored 105 goals in 251 appearances for Real Madrid, lining up in a three-pronged attack with Kane and livewire South Korea forward Son Heung-min will likely send a shudder down the spines of opposing defences.
In his previous incarnation at Tottenham, Bale began life as a left back but became a marauding wide forward who could hurt opponents in a multitude of ways.
Mourinho, who says he wanted to sign Bale for Real, will relish working alongside one of the biggest names again and the Welshman could prove to be the spark to ignite the Portuguese’s so-far non-descript time at Tottenham.
Like Mourinho, who is yet to convince many Tottenham fans that he is the right man to take the club forward, Bale will be fuelled by a sense of having a point to prove after signing a one-year loan deal to return to the north London club.
He was frozen out by manager Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid -- a catalogue of injuries hardly helping his cause.
While many feel that, at 31, his biggest weapons of pace and power will be degraded, a return to Spurs might give him the platform to begin another golden chapter and complete unfinished business with the club that helped turn him into a superstar.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge
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