The Best Players to Return to Their Previous Clubs - Ranked

Everyone loves a bit of football romance, don't they?

Sure, kicking the ball is fun and admiring players merely for their playing ability and sheer athleticism is great, but everything needs a good story to keep us engrossed. It is entertainment, after all.

Be it Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson battling it out throughout the 1990s and 2000s after crafting impeccable football teams, Ronaldo and Messi taking the sport to new heights in trying to better each other every season, or Jose Mourinho causing controversy in an empty room, there's always an element of soap opera.

Gareth Bale's recent return to Spurs is just one of many instances of players returning to the club where they were most successful. While sometimes that's the perfect ending to a career, it doesn't always prove quite so poetic. Here's a list of players' most famous second spells with a club, ranked from worst to best.

17. Mario Gotze - Borussia Dortmund

Since being the man to win the World Cup for Germany in 2014, it couldn't have gone any more downhill for Mario Gotze.

As any exciting German talent does, he earned the move to Bayern Munich in 2013 after becoming a star at Borussia Dortmund, but returned to Die Borussen in 2016 after failing to live up to the hype.

A miserable second spell saw him released in 2020, summing up a nightmare return.

16. Mathieu Flamini - Arsenal

Like Gotze, Flamini returning to Arsenal was an enjoyable bit of nostalgia for fans, but nothing more.

The Frenchman convinced Wenger to re-sign him in 2013, but was merely a highlight of Arsenal not capturing players who would propel them up the Premier League table.

He left on a free transfer in 2016, reputation dead and buried. Well, except as a clean energy mogul, obviously.

15. Kaka - Milan

There isn't one person on this planet who didn't want this return to work out.

Kaka returned to the club where he made history in 2014, but left once again after a disappointing season for the Rossoneri that saw them miss out on European competition.

The romance was gone when he swiftly headed to MLS. Because of course he did.

14. Mats Hummels - Borussia Dortmund

Hummels' return to Dortmund isn't quite as unfortunate as Gotze's, but that doesn't mean it's been all that great.

The defender has only ever played for Bayern and Dortmund in his career, swapping from club to club whenever he fancies, it seems.

Probably due another spell at Bayern before he hangs them up.

13. Wayne Rooney - Everton

This one would've been much higher, as everyone half assumed that Rooney was set to retire with the club where it all started for him.

But no, after an average return season, remembered mostly for a ridiculous goal against Manchester City from the halfway line, Rooney left for MLS.

What makes it weirder is that he now plays for Derby County. Why, Wayne?

12. Joe Cole - West Ham

Cole made an emphatic and emotional return to his first ever professional club on an 18-month deal, and enjoyed reasonable success on a personal level.

'Reasonable' meaning he managed to actually play 37 games and score five goals, without getting too badly injured. He saw out the entire 18 months, too, but didn't retire afterwards, ruining the fairytale ending.

11. Thierry Henry - Arsenal

This one's a bit harsh, because Henry didn't do much wrong in his 2014 return to Arsenal. He just didn't really do anything at all.

He scored an important goal to take them past Leeds in the FA Cup, and scored the winner against Sunderland in the Premier League. That's about it, meaning he can't go any higher.

10. Peter Crouch - Tottenham

Having come through the youth ranks at Spurs, Crouch left the club in 2000 after failing to break through. It came full circle when he returned in 2009 for a £10m fee.

He enjoyed an up and down two years at White Hart Lane, scoring a winner against Milan at San Siro, but also costing Spurs Champions League qualification with an own goal at the end of the 2011/12 season. That about sums it up.

9. Carlos Tevez - Boca Juniors

After holding just about every club humanely possible to ransom with huge wages and tidy agent fees for his good pal Kia Joorabchian, playing for both teams in Manchester in the process, Tevez finally turned good guy in 2015.

He returned to boyhood club Boca Juniors and has played there happily ever after since the return (if we ignore a 13-month trip to China for one last pay cheque).

It makes his current spell with Boca his third with the club, but you've got to admire his shenanigans at this point.

8. Shinji Kagawa - Borussia Dortmund

Are Borussia Dortmund the friendliest and most forgiving club on this planet? Quite possibly.

Every player who leaves them for bigger things but fails is allowed to waltz back in unopposed, and Shinji Kagawa was no different. His second spell was a reasonable success though, enjoying a solid five years with the club before moving once more, and picking up a DFB-Pokal along the way.

It's impossible to dislike Kagawa, really.

7. Didier Drogba - Chelsea

Jose Mourinho returning to Chelsea and subsequently bringing an admittedly past-it Didier Drogba back to the club is about as Mourinho as it gets.

Drogba barely set the world alight this time around - obviously - but picked up another Premier League title. Stat padding at its finest.

6. Paul Pogba - Manchester United

The jury's still out on this one, and it probably will be for the rest of time.

Living up to the price tag of a then world-record fee was always going to make Pogba's emphatic return to Manchester United difficult. Many think he's been a success, others think he's flopped. In truth, it's probably somewhere in the middle.

He has shown his quality in glimpses and was incredible during his return season, but definitely still has more to give to the Red Devils.

5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Milan

It's astonishing that Ibrahimovic is still operating at the level he is at 38 years old.

After a nasty ACL injury broughy a painful close to his chapter at Manchester United, a move to LA Galaxy seemed like it was him drawing the curtain on his career. Nope.

Zlatan returned to Milan in December 2019 and has reclaimed his number 11 shirt, proving himself to be a vital piece of the jigsaw in their potential revival.

4. Nemanja Matic - Chelsea

When David Luiz first moved to Chelsea in 2011, an unheard of Nemanja Matic was used as a makeweight in the deal, sending him to Benfica.

He returned to Stamford Bridge himself in January 2014 a completely new force, and won the Premier League that season. He picked up two league titles, a League Cup and made the 2014/15 PFA Team of the Year in his second spell, becoming one of the Premier League's best midfielders for a period.

3. David Luiz - Chelsea

Luiz returned to Chelsea after two years winning just about every French trophy there is with Paris Saint-Germain, and was immediately a part of a winning Chelsea team.

He made the PFA 2016/17 Team of the Season, won that year's Premier League, and picked up a Europa League and an FA Cup in his second spell. It's a bit sour now he's moved to Arsenal, but nobody can deny his importance and the success of the return.

2. Robbie Fowler - Liverpool

Fowler returned to Liverpool in January 2006 after four years with Manchester City in one of the most romantic tales in the list.

Liverpool fans were overjoyed, as was Fowler, who described the return as feeling like 'a kid waking up on Christmas morning every day'. It wasn't a meaningless return either; Fowler scored enough goals to leap over Kenny Dalglish and become the club's third top goalscorer.

His second spell was plagued by injuries, but it didn't stop him earning true club legend status, which is why he edges past David Luiz.

1. Juninho - Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough pulling off the signing of Juninho amid interest from Europe's top clubs in 1995 was unexpected enough, so when he came back on loan in 1999, it was a dream come true for fans.

The dream became reality once more in 2002 when the Brazilian magician re-joined the club, spending another two years in the north-east and guiding them to their only major honour as they won the 2003/04 League Cup.

He was also a part of Brazil's 2002 World Cup winning squad, meaning Boro literally had a World Cup winner in their squad. It's beautiful storytelling, and one that will live through fans of the club for decades.

Source : 90min