Tottenham have gambled on the homecoming of Gareth Bale as the shot in the arm they badly need to arrest an alarming slide in the 15 months since reaching their first Champions League final.
Bale alone has more experience than Spurs on European football’s biggest stage.
In his seven years at Real Madrid, the Welshman won four Champions Leagues, scoring in the finals of 2014 and 2018.
But he still never won the adoration he received during his transformation from promising left-back to the world’s most expensive player in his first spell at Tottenham.
He had his first taste of Champions League action in 2010/11 when Spurs saw off both Milan sides – with Bale scoring a hat-trick against Inter – to reach the quarter-finals where they lost, of course, to Madrid.
After then being voted player of the year twice in three seasons by his fellow professionals, while Spurs continually failed to qualify for the Champions League, Bale had outgrown his surroundings by the time he left for £85 million ($110 million) in 2013.
In the seven years since, Tottenham have grown in stature to such an extent they can welcome him back to play in a new £1 billion stadium, with Jose Mourinho at the helm and England captain Harry Kane up front.
The problem for Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is that almost all that progress was achieved during Mauricio Pochettino’s five years in charge between 2014 and 2019.
Despite limited investment in the squad as Levy concentrated on building the new stadium, the Argentine turned Tottenham into Champions League regulars and then contenders with a remarkable run to the 2019 final, which ended in a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool.
Yet after a dreadful start to last season and with the feeling Spurs had gone stale due to the lack of change throughout the squad, Pochettino was sacked last November, paving the way for Mourinho’s arrival.
Results only marginally improved as Spurs finished sixth in the Premier League to sneak into the Europa League on goal difference.
Thursday’s trip to Bulgaria to face Lokomotiv Plovdiv in the second qualifying round of the Europa League is a long way from the glory nights in Barcelona, Dortmund and Amsterdam that Spurs enjoyed not so long ago under Pochettino.
Tottenham opened their new Premier League season last weekend with a 1-0 defeat against Everton – a dreadful display lacking in invention – leaving Levy in little doubt Spurs were badly in need of a lift.
He has earned a reputation as one of football’s most frugal executives and just three months ago warned that Spurs were facing costs of more than £200 million from the coronavirus crisis due to the loss of matchday income, concerts and events, including two NFL matches at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Yet Levy has now reportedly sanctioned a deal to pay half of Bale’s £27 million salary for a year, with Sergio Reguilon also expected to join from Madrid for another £27 million.
Whether Bale, now 31, and with a long history of injuries is capable of reviving Tottenham’s fortunes remains to be seen.
But by providing Mourinho with a front three of Bale, Kane and Son Heung-min, Levy is leaving the Portuguese with little excuse for failure as Tottenham chase a top-four spot and their first trophy after a 12-year drought.
“A squad is a puzzle and when a new signing completes the puzzle, it is great for the team,” Mourinho said ahead of Bale’s arrival.
Now the pressure is on the manager to put the pieces together successfully to get Tottenham back to winning on the field.