The last days of ‘Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal sensation’ came long before his departure from the Gunners.
As far as tedious transfer tales go, you’ll rarely find a more mind-numbing one than Sanchez’s failed switch to Manchester City, and ultimate move to Manchester United.
By the end, nobody cared – Sanchez was no longer the same player who justified the initial transfer hype.
Former Tottenham superstar Gareth Bale is primed and ready to call time on another drawn-out saga – from Real Madrid back to the place that turned him into a superstar.
Bale will return to Spurs as a 31-year-old battle-seasoned world-beater – one of the finest and most successful sportsmen Britain has ever produced. (As far as team sports go, he must surely rank No.1?)
Four Champions League-winning medals will adorn his personal honours cabinet, including a 2018 victory over Liverpool in the final that simply wouldn’t have been possible without him.
He scored twice in that encounter, including an overhead kick for the ages. Iconic. Spell-binding. Mesmerising.
Yet for all his success at Madrid, Bale has endured an uncomfortable, beyond awkward, relationship with fans.
He is not and was never Cristiano Ronaldo, his performances often failed to carry the same weight or consistency as the Portuguese behemoth, and he was always held in less esteem.
Since that final, Bale’s career has stagnated.
In November 2019, he had enough, the writing was on the flag: ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order.’
Two years of petty squabbling, PR antics and turmoil between Bale and Madrid are set to end, a move to back to Tottenham was always on the cards, and it will come to fruition. Finally.
But what sort of Bale will grace the field at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium?
Fans will expect, they will demand, ‘Gareth Bale, world class megastar’. They will demand blockbuster performances on a weekly basis, they will pray for more blistering pace, more overhead kicks and more of the Bale who made a mockery of Maicon and Inter Milan at the San Siro on that fateful night in 2010.
But they may not receive him. They’re signing Bale 2.0 with many more miles on the clock, though perhaps more damagingly, too few miles in recent seasons.
Like a car that has been stood on the forecourt too long, Bale faces an instant battle to return to race pace. The tale of Sanchez provides a warning for those expecting a scintillating return.
Sanchez, sore from carrying a sub-par Arsenal team through the end of the Arsene Wenger era, was the epicentre of drama in 2017/18, the source of friction, an outcast by the end.
I concede, his situation and standing with Arsenal differs from Bale’s equivalent scenario at Madrid, but there are definite comparisons to draw between the pair.
Sanchez’s final months at the Emirates saw a milder Chilean trundling around the pitch, the typically-tireless worker looked a shadow of his former self.
The paperwork to City hadn’t been signed – or even drawn up – but the spirit of Alexis Sanchez left Arsenal long before his body did in January 2018.
An eventual switch to United would not prove to be the end of Sanchez’s woes. He arrived at Old Trafford like a builder who had downed tools for so long he’d forgotten how to pick them up again.
Sanchez looked like a player coming back from a long injury, rusty, off-beat with the rest of his team, he carried zero momentum from north London to the North West and it showed.
This feels like the danger with re-signing Bale. He has spent such a long time spluttering, stopping and starting between first and second gear, there’s a tentative worry he may not be able to rediscover fifth.
Wales have suffered this issue with Bale in recent outings. Madrid has affected Bale, taken its toll, and Spurs fans should be wary of the product they’re about to receive.
I wish him well, very few people – outside of Arsenal or Madrid – want his return to fall flat. The Premier League needs stars, and a top-gear Bale is certainly one of those.
The question remains: does top-gear Bale still exist?