The foe you know - Real Madrid's Modric and Bale
16 October 2017|Tottenham Hotspur
Continuing our featured entitled ‘The foe you know’, where we look at former Spurs players now representing this week’s opponents. Today, two greats of the modern era are in the spotlight ahead of Tuesday night’s Champions League showdown at the Bernabeu – Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Gareth Bale.
Croatian international midfield maestro Luka Modric spent four years with us following a 2008 transfer from Dinamo Zagreb, where he’d won three back-to-back league titles in his homeland.
A metronome in the middle, often dictating the tempo of the play thanks to his flair, creativity and – despite his small frame – physical strength, he had his ups and downs in a Spurs shirt in his early days at White Hart Lane but really came into his own when given more freedom to play centrally by Harry Redknapp.
He suffered a bad leg injury in August, 2009, that kept him out for a few months but he returned to feature regularly during the second half of that campaign as we secured qualification for the Champions League for the first time via a fourth-place finish in the Premier League.
He continued to be an influential figure in midfield over the next couple of seasons, memorably scoring a screamer in the opening exchanges of our 4-0 home win over Liverpool in September, 2011 (pictured, above), and proving highly effective at setting up goals as we sought to maintain our seat at European football’s top table.
Luka’s time with us wound down in the summer of 2012 and he completed a move to Tuesday night’s opponents, Real Madrid, in August, 2012, having played 160 times in our colours, scoring 17 goals. It took him a few months to acclimatise to life in La Liga but he eventually found his best form and has shone among Real’s galácticos in the ensuing years. A Champions League winner in 2014, 2016 and 2017, Luka picked up his first La Liga winner’s medal last term and can also include a Copa del Rey final victory over Barcelona from 2014 on his CV.
Luka’s former Spurs team-mate Gareth Bale has missed some action through injury of late, but will no doubt be hopeful of featuring against us at some point, if not on Tuesday then in the return match at Wembley in a fortnight’s time.
A product of Southampton’s academy, the Cardiff-born left-footer broke into the Saints’ first team towards the end of the 2005-06 campaign and racked up the games in the Championship the following year before arriving at Spurs in the summer of 2007.
Playing as a left-back at that stage, Gareth often found himself behind Benoit Assou-Ekotto in the first team pecking order and that, along with a couple of injuries, led to a slow start to his Spurs career. He even had the unwanted record of not being involved in a Premier League victory for us until coming on as a substitute in a 5-0 triumph over Burnley in September, 2009 – more than two years after his arrival at the club.
However, it was during that 2009-10 campaign that he began to hit his stride, proving a nightmare for opponents from a left wing berth thanks to his pace, willingness to take players on and an ability to hit the target from all angles. He played a key role in our qualification for the Champions League and then set the world alight with his memorable hat-trick in the San Siro against Inter Milan in that competition during October, 2010. Another blistering performance in the home game against Inter, which we won 3-1, solidified the Welsh international’s reputation as a star and over the next few seasons we were treated to some magnificent showings from the young man, whether marauding down the left wing or operating more freely in a central attacking role behind the striker.
In truth, there are too many stand-out goals to list – whether it was bursting from one end of the pitch to the other and finishing lethally like he did at Norwich, curling home a well-struck free-kick like against Lyon in the Europa League or just picking up the ball in midfield and sending a swirling shot into the top corner from absolutely nothing like at West Ham (pictured, above), Gareth had a knack of scoring great goals at crucial times, much to the delight of the Spurs faithful.
He still suffered from his fair share of injuries, going down with ankle problems on a couple of occasions, but served us well on the pitch before leaving for Madrid in 2013, having scooped the PFA Players’ Player and Young Player of the Year awards double. His final Spurs record read 203 appearances and 55 goals, the last of which was a trademark late screamer to give us a 1-0 victory over Sunderland in May, 2013.
After a period of settling in at Real, Gareth scored the winner in the Copa del Rey final against Barca in 2014 and was also on target in the Champions League final against Atletico Madrid that same year. Like Luka, he has three Champions League winner’s medals to date and was part of the side that won La Liga in 2016-17.
Both Gareth and Luka played against us for Real when we met them in Germany at the pre-season Audi Cup in 2015, Gareth on target in a 2-0 win for the Spanish giants, but we’re now set to renew acquaintances on the biggest club stage of them all. Kick-off on Tuesday night at the Bernabeu is at 7.45pm UK time.