Gareth Bale has offered a glimmer of hope to Tottenham fans, by suggesting he may one day return to White Hart Lane.
In an exclusive interview with BT Sport’s Jake Humphrey, Real Madrid’s world-record signing said he hoped Spurs supporters could understand why he chose to leave.
“The fans have been unbelievable with me,” Bale said. “They’ve supported me through the bad times and believed in me and I’ll never forget the great European nights at White Hart Lane. They were amazing.
“Tottenham will always have a place in my heart. I hope the fans still love me even though I’ve moved on. I hope they understand that obviously Real Madrid is a massive, massive club and that they respect my decision.
“From the moment Real Madrid put the offer in it was obviously difficult. [Tottenham] was somewhere I felt so comfortable and so happy - it was difficult to leave but when Real Madrid come in it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I love all the Tottenham fans and hopefully one day, you never know, I could be back.”
One game in particular will live long in the memory of Bale and all Spurs fans – the 2010 Champions League clash with Inter Milan, when the midfielder scored a magnificent quick-fire hat-trick in the San Siro as Tottenham lost 4-3, having been 4-0 down.
It’s kind of surreal when you first come to Tottenham and you’re there with all the big players"
“It wasn’t just scoring the hat-trick but the belief it gave me that I could go on to be even better,” Bale said. “It gave me more confidence as a player going onto the pitch that I could do a lot of damage.”
Juande Ramos was in charge at Spurs when Bale arrived in May 2007 but it was under Ramos’ successor, Harry Redknapp, that the Welshman began to flourish.
Humphrey reminded him of a quote from Redknapp claiming the teenage Bale limped out of training every day, saying he was injured, and spent most of the time playing with his hair.
“In a way I probably was a little bit too soft,” the 24-year-old conceded. “It’s kind of surreal when you first come to Tottenham and you’re there with all the big players.
“I moved there when I was 17 and when Harry came in I started to really grow up. I think he definitely helped me mature as a person and a player by giving me a kick up the arse now and again!
“I think every player needs it sometimes, especially when you’re younger – you need to be put in your place and shown you need to work hard and he definitely did that. From that day I tried not to go down and not to play with my hair too much!”
Famously, Bale failed to be on the winning side in the first 24 league games he played for Spurs and he admitted taking a bit of stick from his team-mates.
“I didn’t know until the 21st game or something,” he laughed. “We were in the players’ lounge and I think Ledley King made a joke about it.
“For the next three games they’d give me a little bit of banter and in the game we actually won, when I came on against Burnley, a few of the lads gave me a round of applause!”
Bale had been playing at left-back under Redknapp but when the manager pushed him further forward he began to study the likes of Ryan Giggs and other left-wingers to get to grips with the positional play his new role entailed.
“I remember Harry on the sidelines screaming at me to run at the players, shouting ‘Run! Run! Run!’” he said.
“He just gave me that confidence to run at players and take them on and that gave me the belief that I could take on anybody. That confidence he gave me made me realise I could go even further.”
Before Redknapp arrived at White Hart Lane, Bale admitted he had just been “gliding by” without putting any extra work in.
“When Harry came in he gave it to me straight and made me realise I needed to work really hard to fulfil my potential and get better,” he said.
“So from there I just kept working harder and harder and I’m still doing that now. With hard work and dedication you can get a long way in the game. For me it was a massive learning curve and it still is now – I’m working harder now than I ever have done before.”