The tell-tale signs were there, even as Gareth Bale drifted further into the shadows.
Even as skies darkened over his career at Real Madrid, a reminder that the fire still burned.
Last summer, as Spanish football emerged from shutdown, Zinedine Zidane tested his players’ speed, their strength, their readiness to secure LaLiga glory.
Gareth Bale could make his long awaited Tottenham return against West Ham on Sunday
The 31-year-old is back in training after recovering from a knee injury and is building up fitness
Bale, it’s said, ended top of the class. And yet over Real’s final 12 matches, Zidane used the 31-year-old only once.
It was the surest sign of bridges burnt but evidence, too, that Bale’s weapons still fired. This weekend against West Ham, Bale can prove just how much gunpowder remains.
His second coming for Tottenham arrives more than seven years since his last Premier League appearance and almost a decade to the day since one night in Milan catapulted Bale towards superstardom.
Against Inter in 2010, a stunning hat-trick put him on course for the Bernabeu.
But amid all the nostalgia, questions remain: does that Gareth Bale still exist? Or, at 31, has his threat shrunk with his golf handicap?
In recent days, Tottenham have provided the odd teaser.
Bale has been working towards match sharpness following knee trouble and social media has seen flashes of those pumping legs and that left foot.
He proved his weapons still fired after topping Real Madrid’s fitness tests following lockdown
Some things never change – even during training in his early Tottenham days, Bale offered glimpses of what could lie ahead.
‘There were things he did… where Luka Modric would turn and (be) like: “Wow, did we just see that?”,’ former assistant coach Clive Allen tells Sportsmail.
‘They were aware very quickly he could do things that no one else could.’
For a time, they remained only ‘glimpses’. And then Tottenham found themselves en route to a Champions League pasting at the San Siro – four goals and a man down at half-time.
‘It was going to take a phenomenal effort just to get out of there without really being embarrassed,’ Allen says. ‘Harry (Redknapp) spoke to the group and that was the message: we basically had to save face, really… and, pwoarh, Gareth just came alive.’
On 52 minutes, Bale soared clear from inside his own half before scoring from a tight angle. In stoppage time another break, another rocket finish. A minute later, his third came with a fine first-time shot. The pace, power and precise finishing was frightening.
‘This was the night he came of age,’ Allen remembers.
Spurs left empty-handed but Bale’s star had set sail. He tortured Maicon again in the return fixture as hours of hidden graft finally bore fruit.
The Wales captain came of age in a scintillating performance against Inter Milan back in 2010
‘He became a phenomenal athlete… he put a lot of work in and that took time to…