10) Paul Scholes (Manchester United)
Manchester United may not have won the Premier League title in 2012/13 because of Paul Scholes, but it was still a remarkable sight to see him lift the trophy in May 2013 a full two years after his initial retirement.
Having had a post-career testimonial and joined United’s coaching staff, Scholes agreed to pull his shirt back on (this time No. 22 rather than No. 18) when Alex Ferguson’s team were going through an injury crisis. He promptly helped United beat rivals City in the FA Cup, scored on his first start since returning and earned a new one-year contract for the following campaign.
Fun fact: In the last 24 league matches that Paul Scholes started for Manchester United, his side took 61 out of a possible 72 points. In the 24 league matches after he retired for the final time, they took 40 out of a possible 72 points.
9) Andriy Shevchenko (Dynamo Kiev)
It is one of the unfortunate truths of modern life: Failure is remembered longer than success. Fernando Torres will be renowned for his Chelsea failure, Paul Pogba for his Manchester United release and Graham Taylor for his vegetable mock-up on the front page of The Sun.
So let’s change all that. Andriy Shevchenko returned to Dynamo Kiev as the leading scorer in Derby della Madonnina history, Milan’s second highest ever goalscorer and is the seventh highest goalscorer in European Cup history. Forget the west London clusterf**k and bask in the glory.
Shevchenko’s Kiev return came in 2009 at the age of 33. Having been a striker for his entire career, he was converted into a left winger with great success. Shevchenko was named in the Ukranian league team of the season for 2009, and in total scored 23 league goals in 55 games. His best moment for Dynamo came in the Champions League, when in November 2009 he scored his 15th career goal against Internazionale.
After being converted into a left winger, Shevchenko then went into politics. Yeah, I do satirical s**t now.
8) Robbie Fowler (Liverpool)
Seven months after he had been part of the crowd in Istanbul watching Liverpool’s Champions League miracle, Robbie Fowler had come home. ‘God – number eleven, welcome back to heaven,’ the banner read.
Injury problems had curtailed Fowler’s opportunities at Manchester City, so there were low expectations after his free transfer move to Anfield. As Rafa Benitez said at the time: “To buy a Robbie Fowler who is fit and scoring goals would cost a lot, maybe £10m or more.” Fowler, however, was not finished. After proving his fitness to Benitez, the striker earned a new one-year contract after scoring five goals in 14 Premier League games.
2006/7 saw Fowler’s injury problems return, and he scored just three league goals all season. All three were against Sheffield United, and all were penalties. His final game for Liverpool came on May 13, 2007, when he was made captain for the day and given a standing ovation after his late substitution.
Fowler may not have achieved greatness during his second spell, but his celestial reputation has already been cemented. This was merely the lap of honour.
7) Robert Prosinecki (Dinamo Zagreb)
Possibly the most insouciant and relaxed footballer to ever play in England, Prosinecki gained cult hero status at Portsmouth for single-handedly saving them from relegation. He is also one of a handful of players to appear for both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the modern era.
Before all that, however, Prosinecki annoyed his manager at first club Dinamo Zagreb by leaving for Red Star Belgrade. Miroslav Blazeviã promised that he would eat his football diploma if the midfielder ever made it as a pro.
Ten years after leaving the club Prosinecki returned, saying he owed it to the fans to show them his skills. He was immediately made captain and led the club to three consecutive league titles. Blazeviã presumably suffered from indigestion after his papery meal.
6) Henrik Larsson (Helsingborg)
Kids these days may worship at the feet of Zlatan, but there will only ever be one Swedish striker worthy of my worship. Just watch this video of Henrik Larsson’s 242 Celtic goals and accept the deep gratitude of your eyes.
Having left Helsingborg in 1993 for Feyenoord, Larsson returned after 13 years and over 300 goals later. He scored 38 goals over three seasons, briefly leaving to go on loan to Manchester United and winning the Swedish Cup in 2006.
However, Helsingborg was not the real start to Larsson’s journey. Despite retiring in October 2009, Larsson revealed he had made a pledge to return to Hogaborgs, the club that gave him his senior debut. Serious injury problems threatened to stop the striker from keeping his promise, but in June 2013 (when aged 42) Larsson took to the field in the 85th minute of a league game to play alongside his son Jordan.
Coincidentally, on Sunday Jordan scored this wonderful goal for Helsingborg. His manager? Daddy Larsson.
5) Lukas Podolski (FC Koln)
Podolski may have tried his hand at Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Internazionale and now Galatasaray, but there really was no place like home.
Having left for Bayern at the age of 21 after scoring a ridiculous 46 league goals (22 in the Bundesliga) in Cologne, German coach Berti Vogts declared himself delighted at the move: “I am happy that Podolski has left Cologne. He had too many friends in the city. He got praised as a great runner if he ever got back to defend three times in a game. He got an easy ride and he believed his own publicity.” Things didn’t improve.
Despite Vogts view, Koln’s supporters were desperate to have their beloved return. They raised just under €1m by selling pixels of a website image of the forward, t-shirts and releasing a single in tribute to him. Michael Schumacher even spent €1,000 on the merchandise. They got their wish when new national team coach Joachim Low assured Poldi that returning home would not harm his international chances.
Things weren’t quite as glorious second time round, but Podolski still scored 31 goals in his final two seasons before again leaving, this time for England. Koln retired his shirt number for two years in tribute.
4) Carlos Tevez (Boca Juniors)
The homecoming that instigated the list. Watching Carlito walk on to the turf in La Bombanera with his children in tow was to witness something deeply wonderful, football not as sport but as an inevitable part of the human condition for all those 40,000 in the stadium. Each had brought an offering for a local soup kitchen. Tevez had insisted.
In his article in the Daily Telegraph, Jonathan Liew expertly summarised how Tevez’s return goes against the tide of modern football, eschewing the astronomical wages on offer in Europe and beyond in order to go to only the place he feels at home.
Every season there seems to be another exotic location for players to head once the European elite deem them to be over the hill, a new league in which to play the role of part footballer, part tourist. USA, China, Japan, Uzbekistan, India, UAE, Qatar – none even flickered into Tevez’s mind. He had only one goal.
3) Alan Shearer (Newcastle United)
Okay, so Alan Shearer didn’t come back to play for his first club, but try telling the 15,000 worshippers who turned up at St James’ Park on August 7, 1996 that this wasn’t a homecoming.
I wrote at far greater length here about Shearer’s legacy, but it’s worth revisiting the words of 63-year-old Barbara Donaldson, as quoted in the Guardian: “The morning he signed I went to get my pension. Normally they’re a right grumpy lot but that day everybody in the queue had a smile like a Cheshire cat. If you’d put us in for the Olympic high jump that morning, we’d have set a world record.”
“When I was a young boy I wanted to play for Newcastle United, I wanted to wear the number nine shirt and I wanted to score goals at St James’ Park,” said Shearer upon hanging up his boots, an ambition comfortably realised. If you can judge a man’s reputation in a city by his titles, then Shearer has it nailed: Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland, a Freeman of Newcastle upon Tyne and an honorary Doctor of Civil Law of Northumbria and Newcastle Universities.
2) Frank Rijkaard (Ajax)
Rijkaard’s first spell at his hometown club Ajax was littered with trophies. By the time he had left for Milan (via Lisbon and Zaragoza) in 1988, the defensive midfielder had won three Eredivisie titles, three Dutch Cups and the European Cup Winners’ Cup (officially the best competition of all time).
Rijkaard is famous for his six-year spell in Italy, where he was part of what might be the greatest club side in the history of the game. However, one should not overlook his two seasons back in Amsterdam during the autumn of his career. This was no exercise in winding down.
Playing in central defence alongside the equally experienced Danny Blind as part of an otherwise youthful Ajax side, Rijkaard led his side to two further Dutch titles. His fabulous swansong came in the 1995 Champions League final, Rijkaard’s final career game. It was his assist that set up Patrick Kluivert to score the winner against Milan, his former side. If 1953 FA Cup was labelled as the Matthews final, this was the Rijkaard final.
1) Ludovic Giuly (Monts d’Or Azergues)
Having promised the club’s late chairman that he would return one day, French international Ludovic Giuly did exactly that by joining amateur club Monts d’Or Azergues in summer 2013.
This was no token gesture, however. Seven years after winning the Champions League with Barcelona, Giuly was named captain and club president, leading them during a wonderful spell which included a fantastic French Cup run.
Speaking before a tie against Monaco, Giuly got all teary-eyed: “This is why I am still playing. This is football and I live for it. I will die on the pitch. Nothing gives me emotions like this, except for my children.”
Not content with being the star turn in the French fourth tier, Giuly then had the stadium named after him as a tribute from the club. Lovely.