Homecomings are a rare occurrence in world football. Typically, it requires a player or manager to have unresolved business at the club, and they must have previously left the club on good terms. Egos and tempers are very fragile in soccer, and when it comes to a parting of the ways between a player and a club, bridges can be burned on both sides. However, when the circumstances are correct and a return is possible, it can be an extremely rewarding situation for all of the parties involved.
Several clubs have used this as a strategy in their current campaigns, and it’s been mostly successful so far. Chelsea has risen to the top of the Premier League thanks in large part to the contributions of Jose Mourinho and Didier Drogba. Atletico Madrid allowed for the return of the long lost Fernando Torres to his childhood club. Torres played nearly a full hour of Atleti’s 2-0 win over rivals and the hottest team in the world, Real Madrid. The power of a homecoming is already quite visible this season.
Over the history of soccer, not all homecomings have been successful and some have had disastrous results for the parties involved. Generally the boost that it gives to a club and their fans are enough to make most reuniting cases a success. Homecomings give a nice symmetry to a player’s career, can atone for a club’s poor handling of a previous situation, and are generally viewed in a positive light by the media. Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again,” but these players and managers have proved that you certainly can in soccer.
15 Fernando Torres to Atletico Madrid
This reunification is only in the early stages, but is already having positive benefits for both Atletico Madrid and Fernando Torres. Torres made his debut for the second time with the club in a Copa Del Ray match at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday evening and had an immediate positive impact. He helped Atleti secure a valuable 2-0 win over Real Madrid, who had been on a fantastic winning streak before suffering two defeats early in 2015. Torres is currently on loan from AC Milan through the end of next season, and it was wise for Atletico to step in for a player that was not being utilized elsewhere.
14 Nemanja Matic to Chelsea
During his first stint with Chelsea, he played in only three matches. But upon his return to the club, Nemanja Matic has become one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. Matic first left the club on loan to Vitesse followed by a transfer to Benfica in part of a deal for David Luiz. He helped Benfica to a Primeria League title on 2013-14 after losing to Chelsea in the 2012-13 Europa League Final. Last January, he was Jose Mourinho’s winter transfer coup when he returned to the club for a €25 million. He has been dominant at times during his second stint with the club, notably shutting down Yaya Toure in a test against Manchester City. Matic also scored a stunning sidefooted volley on duty for Serbia that was nominated for the Puskas Award. Despite suffering injury, he has been a major factor in Chelsea’s success so far this season.
13 Didier Drogba to Chelsea
With Didier Drogba’s final touch in a Chelsea kit in 2012, he secured the winning penalty in the Champion’s League Final against Bayern Munich. It was a fairytale ending for a worthy man, but it was not the end that Drogba had in mind for his own story. Drogba returned to the club and has been reunited with manager Jose Mourinho, which has helped Chelsea climb to their spot atop the Premier League. Drogba has been a steady contributor for the Blues this season, producing six goals and two assists in his 24 appearances so far this season. If Drogba and his teammates can secure some silverware, this may be one of the best homecomings in recent memory.
12 Kaka to Milan
Less than four years after leaving AC Milan for Real Madrid, Ricardo Kaka was making his return to Italy on a two-year contract. His first stint with the club included a Serie A title and UEFA Champion’s League glory, but his second stint was not quite as spectacular. Kaka suffered a muscular injury and decided not to accept wages from Milan during his recovery period. The move did have a silver lining because Kaka scored his 100th goal with Milan during a match against Atalanta, and he quickly followed that up by completing the brace. At the end of the year, Kaka secured a transfer deal to the MLS, where he will become the face of the expansion franchise, Orlando City.
11 Juan Roman Riquelme to Boca Juniors
Juan Roman Riquelme left Boca Juniors after winning three titles during his first tenure with the club. After an unsuccessful spell, he dominated La Liga following a loan and transfer to Villarreal. Considered one of the most technically gifted players of his era, Riquelme netted 46 goals during his time in the Yellow Submarine. When it was time to return home to Argentina, he needed a reunification with Boca, which began with a five-month loan where he was an integral part of Boca Juniors 2007 Copa Libertadores title. He helped them win two more Aperatura titles and the Recopa Sudamericana before transferring from the club last year to reunite with his boyhood club, Argentinos Juniors, to give his career perfect symmetry.
10 Diego Maradona to Boca Juniors
This homecoming is one of those that certain fans may prefer to forget. Diego Mardona’s first spell with the club ended with him helping Boca Juniors win the 1981 Argentine Metropolitano Championship. He then took his game abroad to Barcelona and Napoli before returning home to Argentina. After a stop at Newell’s Old Boys, he finally returned to Boca Juniors in 1995 after over a decade away from the club. Over the next three seasons, Maradona played in only 31 matches and scored seven goals. He did help Boca challenge for a 1997 Apertura title, but fell just short with the team finishing in second. It still was exciting for the Bombonera to welcome him back into their ranks with a party-like atmosphere.
9 Jurgen Klinsmann to Tottenham
When Jurgen Klinsmann made the decision to join Tottenham Hotspur for the 1994-95 season, he entered the country as the villain that had helped eliminate England from the 1990 World Cup with a cynical dive. However, he won over fans by scoring on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday and went on to win Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year in 1995 after scoring 29 goals in all competitions. Klinsmann left after the season for Bayern Munich, but returned on a loan deal in 1998 to help the team stave off relegation. During the final game of his professional career as a player, he scored for Tottenham against Southampton on the last day of the season.
8 Jermain Defoe to Tottenham
Jermain Defoe first came to Tottenham as a 21-year-old who scored on his debut after a £7 million transfer from West Ham. Over the next 170 matches, Defoe made himself a beloved figure among the faithful at White Hart Lane by scoring 62 goals. His January transfer to Portsmouth in 2008 caused him to miss out on both Spurs League Cup victory and Portsmouth’s FA Cup run. After making his intentions to leave the club clear, Defoe returned to Spurs for six more seasons, where he excelled in European competition. Defoe played a successful loan stint with the club after transferring to Toronto FC last season.
7 Thierry Henry to Arsenal
Thierry Henry is one of the best strikers in Premier League history and an absolute legend in the eyes of football fans around the world. His performance during the 2000s made Arsenal a fearsome opponent for every squad they faced. During the 2003-2004 season, they became the first team in over 100 years to finish the English top division undefeated. He left the club to play successful stints with Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls, before returning for a brief loan period in 2011-12. His first appearance came in a goaless FA Cup match against Leeds. Henry came on and scored the winner, before an emotional celebration with the Arsenal faithful. He scored two goals in seven matches during the loan for the club, playing in the Emirates Stadium that now has a statue of their striker outside.
6 Marco Reus to Borussia Dortmund
Marco Reus spent the majority of his formative soccer years in the youth system at Borussia Dortmund before he left as a seventeen-year-old to play with Rot Weiss Ahlen. He emerged as an elite footballer in the following seasons and signed a deal to play with Borussia Monchengladbach, where his career flourished. Finally in 2012, he made his debut at the Westfalonstadion and scored on his debut against Werder Bremen. The move to return to Dortmund has proven to be wise because Reus has continued to progress as an elite player and is now a transfer target of Europe's top clubs.
5 Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona
Cesc Fabregas was a Barcelona fan during his childhood and signed as a youth academy player when he was only 10 years old. Fabregas trained as a defensive midfielder while playing for several years with youth talents like Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique. However, he left the club before every playing in a first team match for the club. After playing for eight seasons with Arsenal, Cesc made his return to the Camp Nou in the 2011-12 season. He helped the team win a slew of trophies over the next three years, while leading the most successful period in Spanish national team history.
4 Robbie Fowler to Liverpool
It takes quite a lot to earn a nickname like “God” from the Anfield faithful, but Robbie Fowler did just that during his first tenure at Liverpool. His first stint with the club lasted nine spectacular seasons, where he scored 120 goals and helped the club win the FA Cup and UEFA Cup before leaving for Leeds in 2001. In January 2006, Fowler decided to return to Anfield on a free transfer, and he was greeted with banners that said “Welcome back to Heaven.” He scored eight more goals for the club before continuing his football career with several other clubs.
3 Henrik Larsson to Helsingborgs
Henrik Larsson has had a spectacular career in football, achieving success at every level he has featured. He rose through the ranks with Swedish teams Hogaborgs and Helsingborgs, where he scored a total of 73 goals during his five seasons between the two clubs. After achieving success with Feyenoord, Celtic, and Barcelona, he returned to Helsingborg for four seasons, where he scored 38 and helped them win the Svenska Cupen in 2006. Larsson then returned to Hogaborgs for a brief stint to become an assistant manager. He then took over as manager of Helsingborgs in November in another comeback to the club.
2 Gerard Pique to Barcelona
Gerard Pique was trained as a defensive midfielder in Barcelona’s La Mascia before leaving as a 17-year-old to finish his youth career with Manchester United. As his professional career blossomed in only limited appearances, Pique was a Premier League Champion and Champions League title winner by the age of 21. He returned to Barcelona the following season and has played a central role in their dynastic run of success in recent seasons. Pique helped them win four La Liga titles and two Champions League titles and continues to be a central figure.
1 Jose Mourinho to Chelsea
Hiring Jose Mourinho was the smartest move that Roman Abramovich ever made regarding Chelsea. When the duo was first united in 2004, Mourinho immediately impacted the club securing the transfer of legends like Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Ricardo Carvalho, and Paolo Ferreira. He helped them win two English Premier League titles before falling out of favor with Abramovich over several disagreements in 2007. The two rebuilt their relationship in 2013, and Jose was hired for another tenure with the Blues. He immediately set about rebuilding the squad to his style and it has shown to be extremely beneficial, with Chelsea currently challenging for titles in four competitions.
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