Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho says Gareth Bale has nothing to prove, insisting his “special qualities” can help the club between now and the end of the season.
The Wales international is just beginning to come to life after a dismal start to his second spell in north London, which was dogged by injury concerns that stopped Mourinho offering him many minutes.
There appeared to be friction between the two a fortnight ago when Bale posted a picture on Instagram that suggested he had trained well before telling Mourinho he did not feel fit enough to play against Everton in the FA Cup.
But Bale showed signs he was returning to somewhere near his best with an impressive 45-minute display in the 2-1 defeat at West Ham, where he notched an assist, ran past defenders and hit the crossbar with a fierce effort.
And Mourinho is “totally convinced” about Bale’s quality and hopes he can start delivering more as the season hits the business end.
“He doesn’t need to convince me of anything,” said Mourinho ahead of the second leg of the Europa League last-32 tie against Wolfsberger. “I am totally convinced about everything. It’s not about convincing me, it’s about being ready to play the minutes we all would love him to play.
“It’s a process. You feel that in matches in the last couple of years. It’s the process. We want him of course to be ready to play every minute of every game.
“He is a player with special qualities, you could see against West Ham in the second 45 minutes the positive impact in the quality of the game. He had a cross, he had a couple of assists, he hit the crossbar.
“He is doing that better and better, but he is not playing 90 minutes, he is not playing every game. We have to manage his evolution. But he has nothing at all to convince me about.”
Spurs have six games in March before an international break where Bale could play three times for Wales, so Mourinho is keen to manage him carefully.
“We play Wolfsberger, then we play Burnley, Fulham midweek, Crystal Palace at home and then hopefully we play Europa League again,” he said. “We play nine matches – six plus three – in March.
“That’s six for us at the club plus three for the national team. Our players are going to be on a nine-match run in March which is something absolutely crazy.
“And Gareth is a special example of a player we need to take care of. I can tell you that at this moment Gareth is playing all the minutes that he can and that we feel are good for his evolution.
“And what he wants and what we want is in this last part of the season to play more minutes and more crucial matches than he did.”
While some have wondered whether Bale’s heart was really in it on his return to English football, his Wales team-mate Ben Davies never doubted him.
“I think for me I’ll never have any doubts about Gareth Bale, having played with him and seen how good he can be,” the left-back said.
“I feel like there’s kind of a narrative around him that one week he’s brilliant and one week he’s not. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t played a lot of football in the last year or so. He has to build his way back in.
“I thought when he played against West Ham at the weekend he was probably our best player.
“So for me there’s no doubt that Gareth Bale’s quality is there and we’ll see it.”