Bale-Zi­dane frost thaw­ing

The Citizen (KZN) - - Internatio­nal - Madrid

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

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages

JOSE MOUR­INHO

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