Ten Premier League returns nobody remembers, including Liverpool and Arsenal homecomings

Matt Stead
Blackburn defender Stephane Henchoz, Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann and Spurs player Pascal Chimbonda
It's time to be honest about Steve Guppy's 2003/04 season

Ross Barkley is rejoining Aston Villa, but even the Liverpool and Newcastle players involved in these Premier League returns would struggle to recall them.

With Ross Barkley very possibly heading back to Aston Villa after his loan there four years ago, it feels like as good a time as any to recount those other forgettable instances of players returning for a second spell at their old Premier League clubs.


10) Lee Clark back to Newcastle
There are a handful of theories as to what caused the great Newcastle implosion of 1995/96. The signing of Faustino Asprilla is chief among them, along with Kevin Keegan’s fragility and, as Les Ferdinand later put it, a lack of trophy-winning “experience” against a grizzled Manchester United machine.

But if you ask Lee Clark, then the decision to replace Lee Clark was the ultimate downfall of Lee Clark’s Newcastle.

‘The boss believed we needed some defensive cover to protect the rich vein of attacking wealth and invested £4m in Blackburn’s midfield enforcer as a consequence,’ he wrote in 2016. ‘What do I think? I, obviously, believe Keegan shouldn’t have changed anything up to that point. The stats back me up. They tell you I shouldn’t have been dropped.’

Except those stats actually show that Newcastle’s inexorable slide had already started with Clark in the team and Batty’s mid-season signing was merely an unsuccessful attempt to turn the tide.

Clark left Newcastle for those Sad Mackem etc and so ons in 1997, settling for a few years at Fulham before heading back to St James’ Park in 2005 to take his first tentative steps into coaching, while playing on a monthly rolling contract.

He featured 25 times and scored once – obviously against Middlesbrough – in his final season before retirement, making two appearances with the same James Milner who played alongside his son Bobby for Liverpool in a game a decade and a half later.

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9) Nicky Shorey back to Reading
That stunning Reading team of Hahnemann, Ingimarsson, Sidwell, Lita and Doyle would not have been the same without the quiet, assured brilliance of Shorey. With the Royals currently in ownership hell and at the wrong end of League One, the left-back will likely remain their top-flight record appearance holder for at least a little while.

Those 90 Premier League games were split between two spells and resulted in as many relegations. Shorey joined Aston Villa upon Reading’s first drop back into the Championship and came home four years later, following time served at Nottingham Forest, Fulham and West Brom.

The 2012/13 season was a miserable old time for Reading, culminating in that wonderful goalless draw in a game both they and QPR had to win to avoid the drop, prompting post-match Jose Bosingwa laughter which manager Harry Redknapp attributed to “another foreign lad” telling him something.

Shorey had long since lost his place by then and was released in the summer.


8) Stephane Henchoz back to Blackburn
Having declared himself “not ready to go to a big club like Manchester United” in June 1997, Henchoz instead chose to join the Premier League champions of two years prior, Blackburn.

His plan was simple: “I am only 22 and I have time to move to a big club when my contract is finished.” The centre-half did not even wait that long; when Rovers were relegated in 1999 he found his way into the loving arms of Liverpool and Sami Hyypia.

Six trophies of varying plasticism were delivered over the next five years, in which Henchoz’s personal highlight was a stunning save from Thierry Henry in the 2001 FA Cup final. But after being phased out and featuring sparingly for Celtic and Wigan, the Swiss wound back up at Ewood Park for one final swansong and 16 more games in 2006/07.

He is still in the top five for most Premier League appearances without ever scoring.


7) Pascal Chimbonda back to Spurs
For a few years in the mid-2000s, Chimbonda was seemingly powered by Carling alone. He reached three League Cup finals in four years, losing heavily with Wigan in 2006, being stroppily substituted a year later with Spurs 1-0 down in a game they would win 2-1, equalising nine minutes after he was taken off, and watching them lose on penalties to Manchester United while he was cup-tied in 2009.

In between those latter two finals, Chimbonda actually left the club he enraged Paul Jewell and Dave Whelan so thoroughly to join with that transfer request he handed in on the final day of the 2005/06 season in full kit. Tottenham made most of their money back by selling the right-back to Roy Keane’s Sunderland.

Six months later, Chimbonda was back in north London as part of one of the great Harry Redknapp transfer windows: in January of their two points from eight games season, Spurs signed Jermain Defoe, Wilson Palacios, Carlo Cudicini, Robbie Keane and the French international, while taking Stephen Appiah and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie on unsuccessful trials.

Chimbonda really needn’t have bothered. He played five games, winning none and only starting in the Premier League against the Sunderland side he had just left, before joining Blackburn for a minimal loss in August.


6) Steve Guppy back to Leicester
Still probably the answer to England’s left-sided problem, Guppy might have lived up to his billing of the southpaw David Beckham if Martin O’Neill had ever become Three Lions manager. He played under 11 different coaches at club level but made 186 of his 334 career club games under the Irishman, who signed him for three different clubs to rival Neil Warnock’s obsession with Paddy Kenny.

Guppy’s first four or so years with Leicester included a League Cup winner’s and runners-up medal, with consistent mid-table finishes and a couple of European trips.

His last five months after obviously thriving under O’Neill with Celtic were less memorable: 15 games in the 2003/04 season, resulting in Micky Adams taking the Foxes down.


5) Jens Lehmann back to Arsenal
“You could see that it was a little bit an end of season game, especially with the fact that they didn’t open up at all,” said Arsene Wenger, who hardly helped change that mood against Everton in May 2008. He brought on Champions League runner-up, Invincible and professional #madcap Jens Lehmann for the final 20 minutes as “a farewell” before his exit for Stuttgart.

One would be forgiven for assuming it was his final Arsenal appearance, particularly considering his June 2010 retirement after a couple of years in Germany. But injuries to Wojciech Szczesny, Lukasz Fabianski and Vito Mannone meant Lehmann, in London to complete his coaching badges with the club anyway, was called in as emergency cover in March 2011.

When Manuel Almunia was also struck down in what could technically be described as his prime in the warm-up to a game against Blackpool a month later, Lehmann’s time had come. He played his final match for Arsenal in a 3-1 win, conceding his last goal as a professional to Gary Taylor-Fletcher. It’s what he would’ve wanted.

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4) Craig Bellamy back to Liverpool
The ‘Rafael Benitez is a bad man-manager’ circuit will never be short of anecdotes, but perhaps the greatest of all belongs to Bellamy, describing the events of May 24, 2007:

I sat by myself on the plane back to England the next day. Rafa came to sit next to me. At first, I thought maybe he was going actually coming to justify his decision to leave me out. I should have known better by then. “What are your plans for next season?” he said. I looked at him. We’d just lost the Champions League final. I hadn’t got on. I was feeling glum. I wasn’t in the mood. “I haven’t really thought about it”, I said. Rafa didn’t mince his words. “We’re going to buy another striker”, he said. “If you want to go and speak to other clubs, that’s fine”. He started to get up to go but I told him to wait for a second. “I’m still trying to come to terms with the disappointment of what’s just happened and now you tell me you want to get rid of me. Classy timing”.

Bellamy had quite literally assaulted John Arne Riise’s legs with Steve Finnan’s 8-iron a couple of months before. Yet there Benitez was, calmly explaining to an unused substitute in the 2007 Champions League final that he wanted to replace him with Andriy Voronin, Yossi Benayoun, Ryan Babel and, well, Fernando Torres.

A brief sojourn at West Ham and a period tormenting Rio Ferdinand at Manchester City followed, before Bellamy returned to a rather different Liverpool to the one he left; Benitez’s European runners-up had become Kenny Dalglish’s mid-table mess within four years.

The Welshman actually finished his second and final season at Anfield being outscored only by Luis Suarez. Fans will fondly recall his performances in helping Liverpool reach both domestic cup finals, but most others would struggle to picture much beyond that golf swing at the Nou Camp.


3) Roque Santa Cruz back to Blackburn
It feels wrong that Santa Cruz never played for West Ham. It is entirely right that he made his Blackburn debut as a substitute for bubble alumnus Benni McCarthy, considering their respective and ridiculous single-season exploits. While McCarthy scored 18 of his 37 career Premier League goals in 2006/07, Santa Cruz plundered an even more impressive 19 of his overall 26 a campaign later.

The curious thing is that form was not immediately leveraged into an immediate move; the residual effect lasted through an underwhelming sequel. Santa Cruz scored four goals in 20 games in 2008/09, making a mockery of the reported £25m Rovers were demanding for him amid Manchester City interest that January.

But Mark Hughes did and does have a tendency to be Mark Hughes, and having overseen that blistering start to life for Santa Cruz in England, he insisted that City did not relent. They signed the striker for £17.5m. He was bad.

By January 2011, he was back on loan at Ewood Park, this time replacing Nikola Kalinic in a defeat to Chelsea, the first of ten goalless games. And that really does just about sum it all up for a player still going and scoring in Paraguay at 42.


2) Pavel Srnicek back to Newcastle
There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Pavel is a Geordie.

It is incredibly endearing whenever a foreign footballer becomes an entire city’s adopted son. They understand the culture and form an unbreakable bond with the support. They get the club.

For Srnicek, that path was not straightforward. He was signed by Jim Smith in January 1991, initially struggled and conceded six goals in one game against Tranmere, lost his place to Tommy Wright, earned it back in time to help guide Newcastle to Premier League promotion in 1993, watched Manchester United be dismantled from the best seat in the house in 1996, then indulged in some healthy competition with Shaka Hislop before both were deposed by Shay Given in 1997.

The keeper returned to the Czech Republic after seven wonderful years, then moved on to Italy and Portugal in between brief spells Sheffield Wednesday, Portsmouth and West Ham.

It was thought that he had played his last game, for Beira-Mar as a 38-year-old in 2006, but an injury to former foe Given brought him back home.

Srnicek was treated to a rapturous reception as a late substitute in December 2006, more than nine years since his last appearance for the Magpies. He featured once more but stayed for a season-long lap of appreciation.

There was an outpouring of Toon grief upon Srnicek’s passing in December 2015. A minute’s applause was held for the keeper before the first home game since his death. Newcastle went on to pay the most fitting tribute possible: a 3-3 draw with Manchester United that would have done Srnicek and The Entertainers proud.


1) Joe Cole back to West Ham
There was no resentment towards Cole upon his departure from West Ham in 2003. The 21-year-old was named Hammer of the Year and captain of the Too Good To Go Down side which was destined to be picked apart en route to the First Division. He rejected the offer of a new contract but had earned the right through his performances and a potentially generational ability which could not possibly be wasted in the second tier.

An ‘extremely sorry’ West Ham said: ‘This transfer now ensures that no further sales will be necessary following relegation.’ It was a necessary and regrettable sacrifice, made essentially unavoidable by the weight of interest from Chelsea and their recent takeover.

Cole expressed a perhaps naive wish to “return here some time in the future” but did achieve that goal as a three-time Premier League winner in a haze of Liverpool regret in January 2013. He thrilled on his second debut in an FA Cup draw with Manchester United, but inevitably failed to quite capture that initial magic from a decade before.

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