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Romantic returns – What happens when a player goes back to the club that made them a star

Lots of players have returned to their former clubs, sometimes it's to wind down their career as a club legend and others to prove some of the doubters wrong.
 

The story goes that you should never go back to your ex.

Over the years in football we have seen many players return to the clubs that made them a star.

The typical journey of a club’s prodigal son goes something like this.

Breakthrough/sign for a club, become an idol of the fans, leave for a bigger, more glamorous side, play out your career before returning to the first club for a romantic year or two.


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Rooney won the Premier League five times between these pictures

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Rooney won the Premier League five times between these pictures

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Here are seven of the most memorable romantic returns.

Didier Drogba – Chelsea 2004-12 & 2014-15

Chelsea’s kits definitely improved

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Chelsea’s kits definitely improved

Drogba reached god-like status in his first spell at Chelsea.

Eight years at the club coincided with the beginning of the Roman Abramovic era and a period of domestic domination for the West London club.

The Ivorian made 226 appearances and won three Premier League titles, four FA cups and the Champions League.

His physical presence also made him one of the best strikers in Premier League history.

Drogba left to fill his pockets in China in 2012 and returned two years later via Turkey.

Now 35, the Drog had lost a yard of pace, but that didn’t stop him being a serial winner.

Reuniting with Jose Mourinho he made 28 appearances, scoring four goals, in his one season back at Stamford Bridge but added another Premier League winners’ medal to his collection and a League Cup triumph.

Verdict: short but sweet.

Thierry Henry – Arsenal 1999-2007 & 2012

The return of King Thierry

Times Newspapers Ltd
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The return of King Thierry

Surely bringing Henry to Arsenal from Juventus back in 1999 was one of Arsene Wenger’s finest moments.

A glittering career at Highbury consisted of 174 goals in 254 games and a reputation as one of Europe’s most deadly strikers.

Then Barcelona came calling and he packed his things and moved to the Camp Nou.

Henry had lost one Champions League final to Barcelona, but after he moved he finally got a taste of European glory.

A loan move from New York Red Bulls saw the King return to Arsenal for two months in 2012.

But for all the nostalgia, it did not really work out.

Henry joined as cover for Marouane Chamakh (it’s all true).

He scored the winner against Leeds int the FA Cup on his debut to leave Arsenal fans in pools of tears and got one more against Sunderland in the league.

There was a distinct lack of Va Va Voom and Henry was back in New York after just four games.

Verdict: Sadly past it by the time he came back to the Emirates.

Cesc Fabregas – Barcelona 1997-2003 & 2011-14

Supplying Lionel Messi or Nicklas Bendtner? tough choice.

AP:Associated Press
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Supplying Lionel Messi or Nicklas Bendtner? tough choice.

Fabregas entered La Masia aged 10 and was taught the fine craft of midfieldrytm.

Although he starred in a group with Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi, Fabregas didn’t make a first team appearance and Arsenal snapped him up at 16.

After establishing himself as one of the best midfield operators on the continent, Fabregas held off his return to Barca until 2011.

Cesc won a solitary FA Cup during his time at Arsenal but his second spell at Barcelona saw a flood of trophies.

It was difficult for him to break into a midfield containing Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, although he managed 96 appearances and 28 goals in his three years at Barca.

He even got five assists in one game as he shone in post-Pep transition.

Verdict: Pleasing to see Fabregas back at home but never quite lived up to expectation

Kaka – Milan 2003-09 & 2013-14

Iconic? Absolutely.

Times Newspapers Ltd
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Iconic? Absolutely.

Remember the Brazilian for his first period at Milan, not his second.

Milan paid relative peanuts to bring the classy playmaker to Serie A in 2003, €8.5 million, to be precise.

Kaka went on to become the best player in the world while at the San Siro – the fact he was the last player not called Lionel or Cristiano to win the Ballon d’Or confirms it.

He faced the heartbreak of ‘that night in Instanbul’ but led the team to a Champions League victory in 2007 and his effortless Zidane-like ability to glide past defenders made him one of the most cherished players of his generation.

A spate of injuries at Real Madrid saw Kaka return as a shadow of the world’s most expensive player they sold him as.

Kaka only endeared himself to the Rossoneri fans more when he was injured in his first game back and refused to accept his wages while he recovered.

30 games and seven goals later Kaka was breaking Silvio Berlusconi’s heart once again by setting off for Orlando City.

Verdict: Couldn’t reach the heights of his amazing first spell with age and injuries taking their toll.

Carlos Tevez – 2001-04 & 2015-16 & 2018-

50 shades of Carlos Tevez

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50 shades of Carlos Tevez

Tevez has returned to his hometown club not once, but twice.

Tevez started his career at Boca before a quick stopover at Corinthians preceded a successful decade as a lethal marksmen at Europe’s best teams.

The Argentine frontman first returned to Boca in 2015, claiming he wanted to be back in his homeland with his family, as one of the top 10 players in Europe.

He fired the team to the Argentine Primera Division and Copa Argentina in his first season back in Buenos Aires.

Despite his form falling off a cliff in his second season, Shanghai Shenhua came calling with Chinese millions.

Obviously he didn’t miss being in Argentina that much as he went to China to stuff as much cash as possible in his trousers, oh and play a bit of football, if he had to.

Last week, Boca announced the second-coming of Tevez and we are yet to see how that pans out.

Verdict: Brought two titles in his first season back, Boca fans love him, good vibes all round.

Paul Pogba – Manchester United 2011-12 & 2016-

Pogba was a fully grown man at 17 (R)

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Pogba was a fully grown man at 17 (R)

Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson will rue the day they let Pogba go to Juventus in 2011.

A fallout with Fergie led to the club allowing him to go to the Old Lady on a free.

Four years later United were paying a world record fee of £89.3million to bring the Frenchman back.

Juventus allowed him to grow under the guidance of Andrea Pirlo and Pogba returned to Old Trafford as the most exciting midfield talent in the world.

His first season back in Manchester brought a League Cup, Europa League double but he failed to fully stamp his impression on the team.

This season he has grown into the influential gamechanger United thought they were signing.

Verdict: There is so much more to come from Pogba at United.

Wayne Rooney 2002-04 & 2017

Look how young he is

PA:Press Association
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Look how young he is

Rooney burst onto the scene at Goodison Park as a blur of power and pace.

He was just 16 when he made his debut and the Everton faithful immediately took to him.

Wayne had an amazing ability to take the game by the scruff of the neck at such a young age.

Alex Ferguson recognised the talent and made him a United player for £25.6million at just 18 years old.

13 years at United meant Rooney would never have to kick a ball again if he didn’t want to.

But he did, and he wanted to do it at Everton.

The most romantic return of the lot saw Rooney turn down offers from China to go back to his boyhood club and pull on the blue shirt of Everton in front of Goodison Park a few more times.

Many commentators thought he would flop, but 10 league goals in his first season back has proven them wrong.

Verdict: Wazza’s got a lot more life in him yet.