Gareth Bale & Tottenham: One year later 2

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It’s taken a while.

When you’re living with the repercussions of a transfer and you’re watching points being dropped and league positions deteriorating, it’s very difficult to achieve any kind of closure.

When Tottenham sold Gareth Bale last Summer, it marked the end of an excruciating process.  Real Madrid’s tentacles had risen, Kracken-like around White Hart Lane long before the season even finished, and the relentless, dripping poison from Marca and Jonathan Barnett had made Bale’s departure feel inevitable long before it actually was.

When the end came, it was actually merciful.  Tottenham and their fans had been made to feel like a second-rate club and, transfer-fee excepted, by August they were almost traumatised by the bullying.

It was humiliating; waking up every morning to see the club’s grip on the player loosen, knowing all along what the outcome would be.  Football may just be a game, but football fans still suffer - and the lower down the pyramid your team is, the more pain you invariably experience.

With the Champions League final locked at 1-1 and the two Madrid clubs in extra-time, Gareth Bale headed in a half-saved Angel Di Maria shot to give Real a lead that they would never surrender.  Honestly, I’d dreaded that moment - I imagined it would be akin to seeing the love of my life marry a much richer, better-looking man, but…well…it wasn’t  Actually, it was cathartic - it was a validation of Bale’s decision to leave Tottenham and it was a moment that he never would have experienced in North London.  We are of course used to players insisting that they ‘need’ a move to a bigger club, but in this instance it was actually true.

It helped to realise that and to be given a clear demonstration of just what it was that he felt he could achieve.

A lot of Spurs fans will never forgive Bale for the circumstances under which he departed and I understand that.  Watching him prance about sunny Spain whilst still under-contract was far from the ideal goodbye, and I like to think that if he had the decision to make again he would handle his affairs in a more respectful way.

As time has gone on, the yawning chasm in the Spurs side where Bale once played has not been filled, but the emotional attachment to him has lessened.  He deserved his move, and the resentment felt towards him for pursuing it has dissipated.  Unlike Luka Modric, unlike Dimitar Berbatov, and unlike Michael Carrick, he did everything he possibly could for Tottenham and there were times when he put the side on his back and hauled them to improbable wins that they didn’t always deserve.

That last eighteen months, during which Andre Villas-Boas built the side around him, is the finest period of form a Tottenham player has produced in over twenty years.  Bale wasn’t just good, he was phenomenal - a freak of nature who was frequently unstoppable.  Not ‘unstoppable’ in the casual, throwaway sense of the word, but uncontainable, unplayable, impossible to stop.  Watching him was very entertaining, sure, but his performances were also a great source of pride.  He was the anti-Reto Ziegler, the remedy to Willem Korsten, and the soothing ointment that made us forget about Milenko Acimovic, Sergei Rebrov and Helder Postiga.  He was a winner in an age of Tottenham losers.

And that’s really when it hits you: players like Gareth Bale don’t really leave.  Of course, they physically leave the team, but their impression on the club is so lasting that beyond the context of single seasons their day-to-day absence is irrelevant.  Real Madrid may have bought Bale, but they didn’t purchase the rights to the memories he left behind. How many young boys in the White Hart Lane stands will be telling their grandchildren about his performance against Inter Milan when they’re older?  How do you feel when see his thunderbolt crash into the West Ham net and silence that dirty little hole in East London?  Can you still smile when you remember him roasting Rio Ferdinand at Old Trafford and celebrating in front of the incredulous Manchester United fans?

And Chelsea.  And Stoke away.  And Southampton.  And Sunderland.  And Arsenal during the fourth-placed season. And again, and again, and again.

You remember all of those moments vividly; think about the legacy he left and the pride he restored.

Younger Spurs fans don’t appreciate this, but White Hart Lane has been an incredibly miserable place for the last two decades.  Gareth Bales don’t come along all the time, they’re generational players who you have to be thankful for whilst you get to hold them.

When his career is finished, nobody will talk about how he left Tottenham or how badly his agent behaved during that last Summer.  Instead, they’ll just remember that he did play for Spurs and that they had the privilege of watching him every week and doing things on the pitch that were sometimes superhuman.

And that’s really what the game is about.

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