Tables have turned between Spurs and Inter since ‘Bale game’
Eriksen will not settle for repeat of 2010 Champions League
Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier in action with Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino: Spurs are preparing for their third Champions League campaign in succession under Mauricio Pochettino. Photograph: Paul Childs/Action/Reuters
Tottenham were 4-0 down after 35 minutes against Internazionale at San Siro and the situation was so embarrassing even their opponents felt sorry for them.
“I was up against Samuel Eto’o, my fellow Cameroonian,” said Sébastien Bassong, who played at centre-half for Spurs that night in 2010, “and I noticed he was steering away from me, he wasn’t running at me. I asked him what he was doing and he said: ‘I don’t want to expose you.’ He was giving me sympathy and pity.”
Needless to say, Eto’o’s best intentions went down badly with Bassong but then, as everybody knows, one Tottenham player decided enough was enough. “When Gareth Bale started his show, Eto’o was saying to me: ‘Who is this?’” Bassong said. “He was going crazy, shouting at his defenders: ‘Stop him’. I said: ‘You haven’t seen the half of him.’ Gareth got us out of that mess himself. He was a superhero.”
Tottenham are back in Milan for tonight’s opening Champions League game against Inter and ever since the draw the memories of “the Bale game” have framed it.
The 4-3 defeat has come to be considered almost a victory influenced by what Bale and Tottenham did next
It was the match when a 21-year-old Bale exploded to global prominence with a second-half hat-trick, his second and third goals coming on 90 and 91 minutes. What people do not always remember is that Spurs got on the ball in the 92nd and final minute to hint briefly at 4-4. It did not happen. That would have been too much.
The 4-3 defeat has come to be considered almost a victory influenced by what Bale and Tottenham did next. When Inter visited White Hart Lane for the return, Bale destroyed Maicon, then one of the world’s finest right-backs, and Spurs won 3-1. “Taxi for Maicon,” bellowed the home crowd.
“I don’t remember watching the 4-3,” Christian Eriksen said. “But since I joined Tottenham in 2013 I have seen clips of it so many times. It is always being replayed on social media. Hopefully we can make our own memories at the San Siro.” In many ways that game was Spurs’ 2010-11 Champions League campaign in microcosm – Harry Redknapp’s cavaliers were raw, naive, talented and exciting. It was a wild ride, in which anything could and did happen, and it took them all the way to the quarter-finals, where they lost to Real Madrid.
“Before the away game against Inter we were a bit shaky – not scared but apprehensive,” Bassong said. “When it started, we just let it go and, at 4-0, it was horrendous. We were not ready mentally to approach such a high-intensity game. Experience plays such a big role and, during the game, you realised the gap between us and the top teams. It’s not something you can explain. You just have to feel it.”
The roles have been reversed. Back then Inter were the defending champions and Tottenham the new boys, making their Champions League debut. Now Inter are back in the competition for the first time since 2011 and Spurs, preparing for their third campaign in succession under Mauricio Pochettino, can claim to have the knowhow.
In 2010 there was the feeling anything was a bonus for Tottenham but now they are expected to get a result at San Siro and then qualify for the final 16. With Barcelona in their group, the importance of earning some reward is lost on no one.
“I think you can put a value on the experience we have gained in the last two seasons,” Eriksen said. “We have learned it is a tough tournament, a tough place to play and learn but a good place. The perspective has changed for the club [in terms of expectations]. It is now completely different from when I arrived. Now we expect and people expect us to play in the Champions League every season. That puts more pressure on us but that’s a good thing.”
What Pochettino meant was that experience in itself was pointless unless the players had learned from it
Inter have won only one of their four Serie A games this season but Tottenham are at a low ebb after consecutive Premier League defeats by Watford and Liverpool. Pochettino continues to lament those results, particularly the one at Watford, when the mentality was wrong, and he made the point again that his team would not be “realistic contenders in any single competition if we show the same face as against Watford”.
Pochettino veered into seagulls and trawler territory when he considered the role his players’ greater Champions League experience could play. “It’s like a cow that every single day during 10 years sees the train crossing in front at the same time,” he said. “And if you ask the cow: ‘What time is the train going to come?’ it’s not going to have the right answer.”
What Pochettino meant was that experience in itself was pointless unless the players had learned from it – that they had become hungrier and cleverer in the process.
Eriksen said he was simply determined to inspire an upturn at San Siro and heroic failure – like 2010 – would not suffice. “It would be mixed feelings if I scored a hat-trick and we lost.
“Personally you might be a bit happy but ultimately you would be disappointed. Hopefully, if I scored a hat-trick in the San Siro, it would mean a win.”