It was on a cool April night in north London, almost a decade ago, that Jose Mourinho first batted his eyelashes at Gareth Bale.
Bale was 21, staring down the barrel of a 4-0 losing deficit from Tottenham's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Mourinho's Real Madrid and yet still gave the impression, as one writer put it that night, that he had 'borrowed one of Superman's telephone box dressing rooms,' giving Sergio Ramos a match to forget in the second leg.
The game had a few minutes to run when Bale followed a high ball towards the touchline and stumbled into Mourinho's embrace. The two of them lingered there, fractionally longer than you might have expected.
Gareth Bale could make a second Tottenham debut when they welcome West Ham on Sunday
It was later, as Bale walked in from the far side of the pitch, that Mourinho waited around for long enough to shake hands, half-embrace him and whisper something in his ear. 'Did he, by Christ?' Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp said when told of this. 'Maybe we should report him.'
Even when Bale's first Premier League season was cut short by injury, Mourinho, Internazionale manager at the time, included him in his Fantasy Football XI. He later urged Real Madrid to sign him, though they were ships that passed in the night — Mourinho leaving for Chelsea in June 2013 and Bale arriving three months later.
'He can change things, change a match,' Mourinho said of Bale, who is in contention for a return against West Ham on Sunday. Had it not been for that sliding doors moment, you feel that the two of them might have fitted, just like Mourinho and Frank Lampard always did.
Bale did not find the same kind of freedom he enjoyed with Redknapp at the Bernabeu because the place was a nest of vipers and Carlo Ancelotti, Mourinho's successor, pandered to a chosen few. It was never a meritocracy.
On the big European nights, when Cristiano Ronaldo wanted the spotlight, he expected players to pass to him; not Bale on the wing. And when they did not, they got the sharp end of his tongue. 'Centro, centro', Ronaldo would scream at them, demanding the ball.sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
Rafael Benitez recalls Bale knocking on his door when he succeeded Ancelotti and telling him this