The £85-million Welshman, whose sale left Tottenham without their most talented player last season, headed in the goal that effectively killed off Atletico Madrid at 2-1. Bale had been a prominent figure in the match but had seen several snatched efforts fly agonisingly wide.
In a fashion familiar to a White Hart Lane faithful who watched him run their midfield up until 2012, much of Real’s better possession went through Modric. It was his corner from which Sergio Ramos equalised deep into second-half stoppage time.
Compared to Real’s search for "La Decima" and Atletico attempting to add to their La Liga title, the reaction of Spurs supporters to the success of their former stars (which also includes winning the Copa del Rey last month) was a very minor subplot. Nonetheless, it makes for a fascinating case study, especially for a fanbase who believe they have been burned by departing players too many times in recent years.
The most notorious example was, of course, Sol Campbell.
The Spurs youth product and former captain joined north London rivals Arsenal on a free transfer in 2001 having previously declared his intention to stay—as detailed in a timeline of newspaper clippings by fan site Oh When The Spurs. The above video, taken from Sky Sports Soccer Saturday at the time, shows the response inside the ground to a man now viewed as Judas in N17.
Others have fared better—eventually anyway.
Despite initially causing resentment over his move to Manchester United in 1997, Teddy Sheringham returned to Tottenham for a second spell not long after Campbell's exit. At Ledley King’s testimonial this month between former players and the current team, the striker was among the more popular returnees.
Dimitar Berbatov—a player frequently booed at Spurs after the way he forced his transfer to the Red Devils in 2008—had his name sung by sections of the crowd at King’s game too.
The Bulgarian’s gesture in coming back to celebrate his former captain’s career was evidently appreciated. But he also benefited from being out of sight and out of mind at his current club Monaco, no longer capable of hurting his former side.
At the opposite end of the scale of departing players was the warmth shown from the club to Jermain Defoe upon his move to Toronto in January. From the half-time farewell from fans during the Dnipro home game, through thanks on social media (below) and then even the club taking out an advertising board to wish the striker luck during his first home game in Major League Soccer.
The difference here, of course, was that Defoe leaving was as much on the club's terms as his.
Bale and Modric were among King’s former team-mates praising him in the official matchday programme for his testimonial. Each noted their wish to have been playing had their seasons finished.
The receptions both would have received upon reasonably swift returns would have been intriguing. As with Berbatov now, there has been less general hostility towards them playing for a foreign club than if they were playing for a Premier League rival.
Modric’s attempt to instigate a move to Chelsea the summer before his eventual sale has dimmed affection towards the talented playmaker, somewhat. The opinion of Bale, by comparison, appears to be weighted more towards fondness than anger—at least judging by various responses found on social media following his exit, and around the time of the Champions League final.
So how, then, should those fans not still angry with their former heroes moving on, feel about the job Modric, and particularly Bale, did winning the Champions League? At the extreme end of the gamut were comments like this one from BBC Radio One DJ and Spurs fan Nihal.
He was clearly writing partly in cheek, but you can imagine Arsenal fans especially, gleefully mocking any serious attempts from their success-starved neighbours to claim Real’s success as their own.
Still, taking pride in the achievements of the Real two is understandable. Though both were earmarked as potential stars when Spurs bought them (with Modric having already notably impressed on the European stage with Croatia), they rose to prominence with their performances at home and abroad representing Tottenham Hotspur.
Since they are not playing for another English club, some supporters will happily take pleasure in "two of our own" succeeding. To a minor extent it allows fans of a club that is not going to be in the Champions League for at least another year to live vicariously through players they still view as Spurs boys
The latter would kind of make them the equivalent of the decidedly less "romantically gifted" barflies Norm and Cliff cheering on buddy, bartender and former baseball star Sam Malone in the sitcom Cheers. As with them, this might be as good as it gets for Spurs, at least for a while.
Then again, the Real Madrid exploits of Bale and Modric will only occasionally be on their minds. Supporting Spurs and the club’s attempts to fashion a newly successful side is taxing and—despite its ups-and-downs—rewarding enough.
Within the club, the biggest issue is undoubtedly finding ways of replacing the production of two players who played key roles when the club actually reached the Champions League, as well as challenging for the top four after.
After Real’s Copa del Rey win, recently sacked Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood was not shy in pointing out how much they were missed, particularly the outstanding Bale. He said, via The Guardian's David Hytner:
We saw what he did last year and we could do with him now. If you put those points that he accumulated last year on top of what we've got, we'd probably be challenging for the title. The two best players on the pitch were Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, and that says everything.
Moving on from Bale and Modric is ultimately important for Tottenham. They do not want to be reflecting wistfully on what might have been with them for much longer.
But, should fans, former team-mates or the staff they worked with on a daily basis so choose, feeling pleased for them makes a refreshing change to the norm of anger and resentment in such situations.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!