Jose Mourinho has admitted that Gareth Bale is not the same player he was when he left Tottenham in 2013 - but insists this is not necessarily a negative.
Bale made his second start since rejoining Spurs on loan from Real Madrid as Mourinho's side underwhelmed in a 1-0 loss to Royal Antwerp in the Europa League on Thursday night.
The Welshman is still regaining form and fitness following his return to the club, but Mourinho has tempered expectations that he will repeat the antics that saw him earn a world record transfer to the Bernabeu seven years ago.
"I repeat the same - seven years is a long, long, long gap," Mourinho said [via the Daily Mail.] "So which player in the world is the same as he was seven years ago?
"They play in different areas, different positions. They transform their qualities to try and explore their qualities in other responsibilities in the tactical system of their teams. I think it happens with the majority of the players, so for sure he is a different player."
Bale has not played the full 90 minutes since his return to north London, coming off on the hour mark during his two Europa League outings against LASK and Antwerp.
The 31-year-old is yet to start a match in the Premier League, but Mourinho is confident that he is on his way to returning to full match sharpness.
"He is working very, very hard. He is improving," the Tottenham boss added. "He doesn't have one single injury since he came back from the last one. He didn't miss one single training session.
"To play 90 minutes is still hard, to play high intensity is still difficult, but he is improving. He is improving, and hopefully he will be back to a better level soon."