Once you've been adored should you ever go back?
Thierry Henry signing a short-term deal at the Emirates is being encouraged by the Arsenal players, but is returning to one's old stomping ground a good idea? Robin Scott-Elliot investigates
Friday 30 December 2011
There is comfort to be found in familiarity; it's what some in the US might call a known known. Thierry Henry, now a sometime resident of New York, and Arsène Wenger know each other as well as any player and coach can. It was Wenger who did so much to make Henry and in return his compatriot did plenty to cement Wenger's standing at Arsenal, and now it would seem the pair have been exchanging wistful glances across the club's Hertfordshire training ground.
Neither player nor club will be drawn on whether the striker has, or will, agree a loan deal to pull on the shirt he has already worn 370 times. Last Christmas Henry, who won three Premier League titles at Arsenal, spent time training with the club – he still has a house in London – during the major League Soccer close season and that prompted a rash of reports that he was coming back to the Emirates. This time around, with the over-reliance on Robin van Persie and the looming departure for the African Cup of Nations of Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh, it appears an increasingly probable move.
If the 34-year-old does return – a two-month deal has been mooted – Wenger will be looking for him to make at least a similar impact to the one Henrik Larsson managed during a brief loan spell with Manchester United four years ago. There was a weight of expectation on Larsson, who for all his prolific scoring in Scotland and elsewhere had to dispel doubters south of the border, but for Henry it would be all the greater because he would be doing what legend has it no one ever should: going back.
But revisiting former stomping grounds is a well-trodden footballing path – and one that actually has led to many happy returns.
Were Henry to come back to the Emirates he will do well to match the return of a former foreign favourite on the other side of north London. From the moment Klinsmann first puttered up Tottenham High Road in his VW Beetle he occupied a special place in the affections of the Spurs support. After one happy season he moved on but two years later, in 1997, he came back on loan and scored the goals to get Spurs out of trouble, striking four times at Wimbledon in the season's penultimate game to guarantee their survival.
The centre-half – the only non-striker in our list – was the first time Wenger went back for a player. Like Henry, it would seem the spark was rekindled as a result of winter training. Campbell had baled out of a disastrous spell at Notts County and his career at the top level seemed in terminal decline, but Wenger saw something and in January 2010 Campbell pulled on an Arsenal shirt again. At the end of the season, after 14 games, he moved on, but his reputation remained intact.
The young Welshman was already a favourite when Ron Atkinson let him join Terry Venables at Barcelona but his second spell at Old Trafford turned him into one of the club's modern greats. Hughes spent one season in Spain and another with Bayern Munich before Alex Ferguson signed him. He became a pivotal part of Ferguson's first successful side with his bullish forward play and ability to score spectacular goals.
Six years separated Beardsley's two spells at Newcastle United (strictly speaking there were three, as the club released him as a junior) and in each his relationship with Kevin Keegan was key. First they played alongside each other to help Newcastle back into the top flight and, after time with Liverpool and Everton, Keegan, now Newcastle manager, brought his former striking partner home to form a potent new partnership with Andy Cole.
Having won a European Cup, four League titles, an FA Cup and four League Cups while scoring 207 goals in 331 games, the Welshman was never going to match his first spell at Liverpool. Yet his return, after a poor season at Juventus, still gave value for a then record £2.7m fee as another 139 goals followed.
The Brazilian was the surprise signing of that or any other season when he turned up on Teesside in 1995. Middlesbrough went down, but Juninho's reputation went up and he was welcomed back for two further spells at the club, the second of which saw them win the League Cup.
The big, frequently angry Scot's record in his two spells at Everton is remarkably similar: 133 games, 42 goals and 140 games, 31 goals. Everton, though saw the best of him in his first four years at the club. When he returned he suffered frequent injury problems but always remained an iconic figure for the supporters.
When Sheringham left White Hart Lane the parting was not sweet as he accused the club of lacking ambition and headed for Old Trafford. He was roundly booed on his subsequent returns but four years later Glenn Hoddle re-signed the striker and he was instrumental in helping them back to the upper echelons of the Premier League.
The Irishman enjoyed six rewarding years with Tottenham before Liverpool spent £20.3m on the striker. Six months later he was back in search for of the form he had first shown at White Hart Lane. He never found it.
Additional research by Tom Metcalf
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