As Jose Mourinho tells it, it was he who told Real Madrid to sign Gareth Bale. While in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu, the Portuguese coach asked that the Welsh winger be delivered to him only for Bale to arrive just a few weeks after Mourinho left. “There is no secret on that. Even Gareth knows that,” he told reporters after recalling the whole episode.

Seven years later, Mourinho finally looks set to work with Bale. According to widespread reports, the 31-year-old is edging closer to a return to Tottenham Hotspur, with the Welsh winger joining the North London club on a season-long loan. His astronomical £600,000-a-week wages will, it is believed, be subsided by Real Madrid.

This reveals just how badly the Spanish giants want off their books. While Bale helped Real Madrid win countless trophies, scoring in two Champions League finals, he has become a peripheral figure under Zinedine Zidane, barely featuring for Los Blancos last season.

But Bale’s return to North London also highlights how Spurs have bowed to Mourinho. This is far from a typical Tottenham Hotspur signing. In fact, it is the antithesis of a typical Tottenham Hotspur signing. Bale’s return to Spurs this summer instead has all the markings of a Mourinho signing. 

When Spurs spend big, it is almost always on players with significant sell-on value. Giovani Lo Celso, for instance, was bought for a fee of £28 million in January. Lo Celso is 24 and has plenty of time to grow and develop further. 23-year-old Tanguy Ndombele was signed for a club record fee of £54 million the window before, again in the belief that he would only improve further. His progress has stalled, but the potential remains.

Steven Bergwijn, Ryan Sessegnon, Davinson Sanchez … all expensive additions, all young and bought with the notion that Tottenham will one day make a profit on them just as they did with Luka Modric, Kyle Walker and Bale when they sold him to Real Madrid in 2013 for a then world record fee of £90 million.

Bale might be returning on loan, but his wages mean he will likely be the highest-paid player at Tottenham Hotspur. The signing of the Welshman, even on a temporary contract until the end of the season, represents a significant outlay for the club, particularly at a time when finances have been squeezed due to the global Covid-10 pandemic.

It’s worth recalling how Mauricio Pochettino entered something of a spiral, which ultimately led to his sacking midway through last season, over a lack of backing in the transfer market. Pochettino, having made Tottenham Hotspur a near permanent fixture in the Premier League’s
top four and Champions League finalists, was consistently denied the players he wanted. Spurs even became the first Premier League to go a summer without signing a single new player since the introduction of the transfer window.

One wonders what Pochettino makes of the investment made in the squad since the appointment of Mourinho. It’s not just Bale who has been delivered to the Portuguese. The aforementioned Lo Celso was signed permanently in January, as was Bergwin. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Matt Doherty have arrived this summer with Sergio Reguilon also expected to sign from Real Madrid along with Bale.

Spurs chairman Daniel Levy saw the hiring of Mourinho, one of the greatest managers of his generation, as symbolic proof of the progress the club has made over the last decade or so. The signing of Bale will come with yet more symbolism attached. But these sort of moves are a departure from the strategy that has got Tottenham Hotspur to this point.

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