The Tottenham Hotspur that Gareth Bale left behind in 2013 almost could not be further removed from the current incarnation under Mauricio Pochettino.
The Welshman was the team’s superstar in his final season at White Hart Lane, scoring a series of spectacular and often late goals for a side that ultimately failed to usurp Arsenal, finishing fifth to the Gunners’ fourth.
A squad that included Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Clint Dempsey, Tom Huddlestone and Steven Caulker, among others, was being hauled along by Bale and Andre Villas Boas’ willingness to indulge him, moving his star turn into a free role in the centre of the pitch.
The current Spurs side is not only plainly a much better outfit but its values are different now.
Pochettino has emphasised the importance of teamwork, togetherness, work ethic and adaptability to create a brilliant team, without any dominant egos and Tottenham are approaching the status of Champions League regulars.
Yet, more is needed. Last season marked ten years without a trophy and allowing Manchester United to come back from 1-0 down to snatch the FA Cup semi-final 2-1 at Spurs’ temporary home stung Pochettino. Badly.
The Argentine has made it clear that his priority is winning either the Premier League or the Champions League and yet the brilliance of Manchester City and the wiliness of Juventus meant that those ambitions did not come close to fruition.
Spurs are moving into a new and improved stadium, which they hope will allow them to sustainably attract more elite players and reward the ones they already have handsomely enough to keep them away from the clutches of clubs currently higher up European football’s foodchain.
Yet, they are also coming home. Wembley and Tottenham always felt like an awkward fit, so it was vital that, unlike at bitter rivals West Ham, they could upscale their current home as opposed to moving away and having to become settled in new surroundings.
Bale, in some ways, is a perfect metaphor for how moving away in pursuit of greater riches and success – even if it works – can still leave something missing.
For him, Madrid has never felt like home. For Spurs, read Wembley.
Imagine a double homecoming in North London this summer. Spurs have just finished above Arsenal for the second straight season, Arsene Wenger has finally departed across town and Unai Emery is a slightly underwhelming choice to lead the subsequent revolution.
Tottenham, in a new and improved White Hart Lane, could signal their intent to attract one of the game’s greatest players, by bringing him back home, where he would find that nearly every facet of the club has greatly improved.
Just as Bale has elevated his game in his five seasons away – winning four Champions Leagues in that time and now valued at £81m by Transfermarkt – Pochettino has taken Tottenham to another level.
A vastly improved Bale joining a vastly improved Tottenham as they move into a vastly improved stadium. A double homecoming. There really aren’t too many better ways to kickstart a new era than that.