At the end of a week where I thought we might be seeing the beginning of the end of Gareth Bale at Tottenham, he gave us a little glimpse of why it not might be over for him after all.
Most of the time I’ve watched Bale this season, it has felt like my old Spurs team-mate has been happy to come on as a substitute and just jog around – which is what has disappointed me the most, when you consider just how good he is.
At Etihad Stadium on Saturday, it was different.
The highlight of Bale’s 18-minute cameo off the bench against Manchester City was obviously his dribble past three men that ended with a shot that forced Ederson into a decent save.
But I also spotted a moment when he was back in midfield, and turned around to his defence to yell at them to get up the pitch.
There were a couple of other little things like that – not a flash of fabulous skill, but bits and pieces of attitude or intent – which made me think, hang on, he is actually interested here. He cares.
That’s the very least I expected to see from Bale when he came back to Spurs on loan from Real Madrid in September, but for the whole time he has been there, moments like that have been too few and far between.
As we saw at Etihad Stadium, he is still a ridiculous talent. You just need to get him onside, get him driven, and get him playing football like he does for Wales. I hope that can happen at Spurs, but it’s probably only Bale who knows whether it will.
What he has to show now is more of that hunger. Without it, his amazing career is in danger of ending with a bit of a whimper, and Bale’s great talent deserves far better than that.
What happens next?
Even without knowing the full details, it is clear there is an issue between Bale and his manager Jose Mourinho after seeing what happened last week.
When you have a manager talking about a player’s social media posts, and explaining they are not true – in this case Mourinho responding when Bale had said on Instagram he had a good training session before missing Tottenham’s midweek FA Cup defeat by Everton – then 100% there is a problem.
The Bale that Mourinho and Spurs fans probably expected when he signed in September has not delivered. From the player’s point of view, he maybe doesn’t agree with the way Mourinho wants to play, or the way he has tried to manage him.
So, what happens next? Is what we saw from Bale on Saturday a sign that he and Jose can sort out their differences, and that Bale can start more games.
Or, will things just fall apart again, and we end up seeing even less of Bale than before?
We are going to find out in the next few weeks.
Being third sub is no Mourinho snub
I’ve seen a lot made of when Bale was brought on against City – he was Mourinho’s third and final substitute, when Spurs were already 3-0 down – but you can only speculate about the Tottenham manager’s thought process there.
If their relationship really has broken down, then maybe Mourinho knew his team was very tired and they have a busy schedule to come, so Bale and Dele Alli – who has also been out of favour – both only featured because he thought the game had gone, so he put two players out there who he might not use much again.
I don’t believe that. Personally, I think he made the changes based on what was happening in the game – and it had nothing to do with where Bale is in the pecking order.
For example, when he brought Moussa Sissoko on at half-time, the score was 1-0 and Mourinho is probably thinking we just need to stay in this game, and if we do then there are things that can happen.
That’s not a snub to Bale, and neither is bringing him on when you are trying to get back in the game. Only leaving him on the bench or out of his squad completely would have been doing that.
Time to play through the pain?
As I said on the Friday Football Social on 5 Live last week, if people are expecting to see the same Gareth Bale that was around when I was at Spurs with him, they are stupid.
Miles on the clock are not the issue, because of how few games he played for Real in his final couple of seasons there, but at the same time it is hardly helpful that he has not played regularly for a long while. He is 31 now, he has had injuries and he is a different player to the one who tore teams apart in my day.
What I did expect, and what he hasn’t shown yet, was for him to come back with an attitude that kind of said, ‘I know how to win things at the very highest level and I am going to help you do the same’.
Basically I wanted him to be saying, ‘Spurs put me on the world stage. Now I am going to bring all of that experience back to this club that I love, and show you lot how it’s done’.
That can still happen, though, because Spurs still have plenty to play for this season, in the race for the top four as well as the Carabao Cup final and trying to win the Europa League.
If he shows the same attitude he did when he came on against City, even with that game already lost, then Bale can still make his presence count.
A run of games could make the difference
Spurs fans must have been watching Bale on Saturday and thinking ‘we have to use him more’ but part of that comes down to the player too.
I know when I played with him at Spurs under Harry Redknapp, even when he was just a kid, then he was one of those players who if he got a little knock, then he was in pain and if it was his ankle or knee he would not feel right to play.
Harry just used to ignore him and say ‘get out there’. To an extent, Jose needs to do something similar now.
Before Saturday, Bale had not shown Mourinho anything when he started him in the Premier League, or even when he brought him off the bench recently.
Yes, Bale could turn around and argue that is because he has not had a run of games to build up some rhythm.
But in Mourinho’s defence, from what I’d seen, Bale has not really deserved that chance.
Hopefully what we saw at Etihad can, belatedly, be the start of something for him at Spurs, because I think he still has so much left to offer – if he wants it badly enough.
Jermaine Jenas was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.