Tottenham interim manager Ryan Mason has heaped praise on Gareth Bale and indicated the Welshman will be his go-to forward if Spurs enter the Carabao Cup final without talisman Harry Kane on Sunday. Mason oversaw a 2-1 win against Southampton on Wednesday night.
The 29-year-old former midfielder, a Spurs academy graduate and the youngest head coach in Premier League history, is overseeing the club’s final seven matches of the campaign.
Jose Mourinho was sacked on Monday after 17 months in charge despite having a cup final against league leaders Manchester City on the horizon this Sunday.
With Mason in the dugout against the Saints, Spurs came from behind at half-time to win for the first time this season thanks to Son Heung-min’s late penalty.
Bale’s 11th goal of the season, curling into the top corner from an angle, had earlier seen the hosts cancel out Danny Ings’ opener at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium while Son had a goal cancelled out by VAR before his spot-kick.
On-loan goalscorer Bale played just eight minutes across Spurs’ previous four Premier League matches under Mourinho and was an unused substitute in two, having scored four goals in four straight starts before then.
And with Mason unclear whether or not he will have star striker Kane to call upon at Wembley this weekend, the stand-in manager has indicated Bale will be in his starting line-up against City.
“Listen, Gareth’s an exceptional player, he’s had an exceptional career,” he said in his post-match press conference.
“Especially when you don’t have Harry in the team you need someone who can produce moments in the final third. That was the decision for Gareth today, and thankfully he’s repaid that, the effort he’s showed and the quality for the finish was absolutely outstanding.”
After Spurs were dumped out of the Europa League last month, Mourinho demanded “a completely different attitude” and it is thought his public criticism of his players was a huge reason behind his dismissal.
The Portuguese tactician even held four-hour talks with the Spurs squad after being axed as he told the team in honest fashion what he made of their recent performances.
Yet in spite of such comments from Mourinho, Mason declared that he was delighted with the character and mentality of the Spurs squad as they came from behind against Southampton – with many feeling the club’s recent woes owe more to the sacked manager than anything else.
He added to SpursTV: “It’s a great feeling. So happy, I can’t tell you my emotions right now. The performance in the second half was outstanding.
“The effort, the guys gave absolutely everything. We deserved to win the game so very, very happy. We were fully committed, brave, aggressive.
“Listen we won tonight but I think more importantly the attitude, the way we won, the way the game went, it says a lot about the character of the guys in the changing room. I feel very proud of them.”
On his experience of being on the touchline for the first time as a senior manager, Mason continued: “It’s mad.
“I was the first ever manager here with the under-18s against Southampton and then to come back here as a first-team coach and get a win as well, it’s a great feeling. I can’t tell you how proud I am.”
Spurs were without top goalscorer Kane against Southampton and are sweating on his availability for the cup final due to an ankle problem.
Mason said of the England captain’s fitness: “I don’t know. It’s a day-by-day thing. I think we all know, everyone in the world knows, Harry will be doing everything to be fit as soon as possible. As the week goes on we’ll know more.”