Unfinished Business: Players Who Have Returned to Their Clubs

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 4.10.2023.

With Saudi money on the table, Sergio Ramos didn’t even consider walking past the last opportunity to make records set at Sevilla. Staggering 18 years have passed since the defender left Andalusia, and his late comeback to where it all started showed it’s never to late for a footballing love story. It also reminded everyone of the peculiar stories of players who have returned to their clubs.

Players Who Returned to Their Former Clubs

These stories are more common than it might first appear, as there are multiple reasons for why they happen. Sometimes, the player just realizes the city and the club were the rare right fit for him and the grass wasn’t greener across the fence. Other times, the clubs try to make up for the mistake of letting talented players go. Yet a star returning to help the club that made him is the pinnacle of players returning to clubs.

Yet similar to real human relationship break-ups, some things are better left alone, not reheated out of panic.

Nemanja Matić & Chelsea (2009 - 2011); (2014 - 2017)

Nemanja Matić & Chelsea

One of the cases of players returning to their clubs you’ll be excused if you missed. Considering Nemanja Matic came from the Slovakian side Kosice in an under-the-radar deal, playing in only three matches and mostly playing on loan. A stint with Vitesse was enough for Benfica to make a €5,000,000 bet on the tall Serbian. It paid off.

Matic won three cup competitions with the Eagles, and one league title. While also being Benfica's player of the year in the 2012/2013 season. CFC then realized who they had all along and purchased him back for €25,000,000. After the initial move cost fewer than €2,000,000. But the DM paid off big time, winning two championships with the Blues (in addition to one technical from the first stint), one FA and one League Cup.

In the end, Chelsea once again stopped appreciating him and sold him to Manchester United to make room for Tiemoue Bakayoko. He ended up playing 43 games for CFC, Matic represented Utd for 189 matches.

Romelu Lukaku & Chelsea (2011 - 2014); (2021 - ongoing)

Romelu Lukaku & Chelsea

Chelsea is going to be a staple in this list of players who have returned to their clubs. As a club that did a lot of business on all financial levels, the chances of a return being needed were always high. Especially for Romelu Lukaku, who was filmed during a high-school trip to London as taking the air in at Stamford Bridge, proclaiming he will play there one day.

In 2011, Chelsea banked on the big and powerful Anderlecht prospect with the hope of him becoming the new Didier Drogba for the side. Yet, Romelu ended up playing in only 10 games for the club, going on two loans and getting sold to Everton. An unsuccessful stint with Man United and a successful one at Inter Milan made Chelsea break the bank for the childhood supporter of the club. Spending the stunning €113,000,000 for the player they sold seven years earlier for €35,360,000.

Only for mocking music to ensue again as Big Rom got to play in 44 games for the Blues, scoring 15 goals (only eight in the league), with mere two assists. History repeated itself and the London side dished Romelu on two more season-long loans. With his contract expiring in the distant 2026.

Paul Pogba & Manchester United (2009 - 2011); (2016 - 2022)

Paul Pogba & Manchester United

The name of Juventus could've been in the headline as well, yet there is little to be said of Paul Pogba's second stint in Turin. The man who represented only two clubs in his senior career, aged 30, has been picked up in the youth days by Manchester United in its glory days. Yet with only three appearances made across two seasons, Paul moved to Italy and got his chance at Juve, excelling amongst other great midfielders.

United couldn't watch their mistake excel elsewhere and they finally had a place for Pogba in the middle of the park. Yet what became briefly the most expensive transfer in history at €105,000,000, gradually becoming a flop. Pogba's frequent injury woes riddled his six seasons at Old Trafford and the end result was never a real title-challenge, which was necessary. In a total of 233 games, Pogba had 39 goals and 51 assists. After all, leaving the club for free, again. With the same destination.

Cristiano Ronaldo & Manchester United (2003 - 2009); (2021 - 2023)

Cristiano Ronaldo & Manchester United

It's a question of whether there will be a more notable return in football. Cristiano Ronaldo was made in Madeira, and excelled at Real Madrid, but forged in Manchester United. So to see him return in time of need, and as rumours of a Man City switch were at its peak, was a memorable piece of football as any goal.

In his first stint with the club, CR7 was a winger, as the nickname would suggest. He still returned 118 goals in 292 games, to go with his 59 assists. The second stint started poetically, yet quickly the turmoil of Old Trafford made everything sour and the Theatre of Dreams' hero, left through the backdoor in January. Leaving behind him a solid return of 27 goals and five assists in 54 games. Getting blamed for everything rotten with the Red Devils by his overworked critics.

David Luiz & Chelsea (2011 - 2014); (2016 - 2019)

David Luiz & Chelsea

One of the most equal return stories, as David Luiz played 143 games in his first stint with Chelsea, and then 105 in his second era. One might even forget that he played for PSG for two brief seasons. One of the players CFC bought from Benfica, paying him €25,000,000 in 2011, and getting twice the price from the Parisians three years later.

Chelsea got the discount price in 2016 late in the transfer window, as the Brazilian returned for €35,000,000. Overall, Luiz has been a devoted Blue, playing 248 games for the club, scoring 18 and making assists for 12 goals. Winning the Europa League twice, the Champions League once, PL once, and the FA Cup twice.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic & Milan (2011 - 2012); (2020 - 2023)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic & Milan

For a world-class player, the best of the best, Zlatan Ibrahimovic did have a nomadic career. Yet even though he did play the most games for Paris Saint-Germain, he will perhaps mostly be remembered for his AC Milan days. Firstly as a brash young man who brought the club the unexpected title in the single season he was there. Scoring 35 in 44 games that campaign.

But then to return, after a worldwide trip, when Rossoneri were in desperate need of leadership, and to play a massive role in another unexpected title, well that's Zlatanesque. Every week we read about a different Milan youngster praising Ibra for his guidance, and now those players are leading the side on their own. The 67 games played, 37 goals scored, and 11 assists made were truly less important.

Mats Hummels & Borussia Dortmund (2008 - 2016); (2019 - ongoing)

Mats Hummels & Borussia Dortmund

Another of these players who have returned to their clubs who only wore two crets on his chest the entire career - Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. A child and fan of the Bavarians, the centre-back played in only two games for FCB before he was loaned out to Borussia Dortmund and then sold for €4,200,000. Winning two Bundesliga titles with BVB and one cup wasn't enough, and Hummels always wanted to get the true sense of FC Hollywood. Of course, for the titles and the income.

In 2016, Bayern paid €35,000,000 for their own academy product after selling him for €4,200,000 in 2009. In the three years, Hummels got three more Bundesliga titles but his role at FCB diminished and he returned to BVB once again. With the Yellow Wall accepting him despite the "treason." In the end, Hummels played 118 games for FCB, but 474 for Dortmund and whether he likes it or not, that's the club he will forever be associated.

These are just some of the most notable players who have returned to their clubs with differing reasoning behind their moves. But football holds more of these stories than it might seem so at first.


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