Bale-Zidane frost thawing
Tottenham turned to Jose Mourinho to try and maintain their status as a Champions League club, but a terrible start to the Premier League season leaves the Portuguese with a mountain to climb either domestically or in Europe.
Mourinho’s appointment was not a universally popular one with the Spurs’ supporters given his past as a two-time Chelsea manager.
He managed to make the right first impression by securing Tottenham’s first away win in the Premier League since January with a 3-2 victory at West Ham on Saturday that was far more comprehensive that the scoreline suggested.
A vital three points cut the gap between Mourinho’s men and the top four to nine points, but strong starts from Liverpool, Leicester, Manchester City and Chelsea mean one of them will have to falter significantly in the coming months to open the door to Spurs.
The fact that Mourinho’s deal signed last week reportedly contains a £2 million bonus for making the top four is an illustration of how tough a task it will be.
Could winning the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history actually be Spurs’ best way to secure the riches and prestige of Europe’s premier club competition for a fifth consecutive season?
Under Mauricio Pochettino, who was sacked after five-anda-half years in charge last week, Tottenham improved each year in Europe and last season fell just one hurdle short after a dramatic run to the Champions League final.
Despite their dreadful domestic form and a 7-2 thrashing at home to Bayern Munich last month, Pochettino left with his side well-placed to reach the last 16 once more.
Victory over Olympiakos in Mourinho’s home debut today will secure their passage into the knockout stages.
“I think we can go and win that match at home and qualify in the Champions League,” said Mourinho, who has a proud record of always qualifying from the Champions League group stages in spells at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Manchester United.
A rejuvenated Spurs could certainly cause problems for some of Europe’s more fancied sides come the new year as they showed in shocking City and Ajax on their way to last season’s final.
Mourinho labelled himself “humble” on his return to management after 11 months out of the game last week, but was quick to point out in his first media briefing that, unlike Tottenham, he had never lost a Champions League final.
He has lifted the trophy twice, with Porto and Inter, but the second of those successes came 10 seasons ago and there are questions over whether he is still the man to deliver Champions League glory.
The 56-year-old has failed to win a single knockout tie in the Champions League over the past five years.
The nadir of that run came when the negative approach that has often characterised Mourinho’s sides came undone for Manchester United against Sevilla in the last 16 of the 2017/18 season.
That style contrasts sharply with the thrilling comebacks away from home that carried Spurs to the final. – AFP
– When Zinedine Zidane dropped Gareth Bale (above) for a Champions League game against Paris Saint-Germain last year, Bale believed it was the beginning of the end at Real Madrid.
Two seasons on he remains but Madrid face PSG again at the Santiago Bernabeu today, with the Welshman’s future still in doubt and his standing among the fans perhaps never lower.
Madrid’s two last 16 legs against PSG in the Champions League in 2018, towards the end of Zidane’s first spell as coach and en route to their third consecutive European triumph, marked a turning-point between Bale and his coach.
By leaving him out, Zidane’s message was clear: he did not trust Bale in the biggest matches. The pair hardly spoke for the rest of the season, even as Bale scored twice as a substitute in the final against Liverpool.
Bale was set upon leaving that summer, only for Zidane to go instead, and while Bale stayed, Zidane came back and their relationship has been frosty ever since.
But in the last few weeks, as Bale’s behaviour has wavered and the criticism increased, Zidane has become his staunchest defender.
When Bale returned to London to visit his agent earlier this month, Zidane said he had permission to go. When Bale joined up with Wales despite missing six Real Madrid games through injury, Zidane said it was bad timing.
And when Bale celebrated behind a flag that put his club lower down his list of priorities than his country and playing golf, Zidane urged the fans to remember his achievements.
“I have said before, we need our fans with us,” said Zidane after the game on Saturday.
“There’s a lot of noise, too much. He wants to be with us and do well and he’s done that. Talk, talk, talk, it’s not necessary. He’s a big part of the group and we are together.”
Zidane’s pleas had fallen on deaf ears not long before, when the screeching whistles at the Bernabeu were loud enough to conclude the majority of fans were unimpressed and wanted to make their point.
Yet after his introduction in the 67th minute of the 3-1 win over Real Sociedad, Bale played well and the whistles for his every touch gradually grew quieter.
By the end, there were some applauding as he almost capped a driving run with a goal. “He played 30 magnificent minutes,” said Real Madrid director Emilio Butragueno. – AFP