Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 August 2019

From Pepe to Kaka: Five players who returned to their home clubs for one last grasp at glory

They are welcomed back as heroes, but often the legs have gone and an anti-climax ensues

Former Real Madrid defender Pepe has returned to Porto. Reuters
Former Real Madrid defender Pepe has returned to Porto. Reuters

A football player’s ambition is boundless. Reaching the highest achievements the game has to offer is a long and arduous journey.

Some players find a team to stay with for their entire career - the great one-club man - while others have to navigate through the leagues to find their peak.

This week, Portuguese defender Pepe re-joined his former club Porto after 12 years away and at the age of 35. "Porto continues to be a very special club for me," said the former Real Madrid defender who joined Turkish side Besiktas in 2017.

He hasn't been alone in wanting to head "home" to a club where the fans would offer a warm welcome and maybe turn a blind eye to any shortcomings which have slipped in during the twilight of the career of a once great player.

Here's a look at five other players who could have been put out to pasture, but decided for one last try:

Milan 1-1 Barcelona. Kaka set up Robinho's ninth-minute goal which briefly put Milan ahead. The well-earned draw left the Serie A side with five points in Group H, good for second place behind Barca. Luca Bruno / AP
Kaka at Milan. AP


Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, or Kaka as everyone knows him, was a rare breed for Brazilian football. The 6ft 1in midfielder looked and played like a European player. Not without flair, but more clinical and calculated. Kaka would become a household name with Italian giants AC Milan. His performances would earn him a Ballon d’Or in 2007. Two years after winning the coveted award, he moved to Real Madrid. Never able to reach such heights again, Kaka returned to AC Milan in 2013 for one last season, playing 30 games and scoring seven goals for the Rossoneri.


Villarreal's Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla celebrates after scoring a goal during the Spanish League football match between Villarreal CF and Real Madrid CF at La Ceramica stadium in Vila-real on January 3, 2019. / AFP / JOSE JORDAN
Santi Cazorla celebrates after scoring against Real Madrid on January 3, 2019. AFP

Santi Cazorla

The Spaniard rose to prominence in the Primera Liga with Villarreal and Malaga, where his skills and pin-point passes earned him a move to Arsenal in 2012. His presence in the Premier League was instantly felt, as he won admiration for being a player who could deliver an accurate pass to anyone on the pitch with both feet. After a horrific injury - described as the worst manager Arsene Wenger had seen - Cazorla was released by Arsenal and was free to join Villarreal. Not as fast as he once was, Cazorla has shown he has at least retained his accuracy, scoring twice against Real Madrid recently.


16 Jan 1999: Robbie Fowler of Liverpool celebrates a goal during the FA Carling Premiership match against Southampton at Anfield in Liverpool, England. Liverpool won the game 7-1. \ Mandatory Credit: Laurence Griffiths /Allsport
Robbie Fowler came back to Liverpool but the goals were hard to come by. Allsport

Robbie Fowler

A Merseyside cult hero, scoring 120 goals in 236 game for Liverpool, Fowler was a hero on Merseyside. After a number of injuries and the emergence of Michael Owen, he moved to Leeds United in 2001 and then on to Manchester City. At 31, Fowler was not as clinical or as mobile as he once was, but a return to Liverpool was too good to turn down. He played another 30 games for the Reds, scoring eight goals.


2 - Thierry Henry. Wenger had the foresight to see that Henry, who was being played as a winger by Juventus, could develop into an out-and-out striker. The Frenchman soon repaid his £11 million (Dh66.8m) fee, becoming the outstanding striker in Europe and Arsenal's record goalscorer. Odd Andersen / AFP
Thierry Henry came back for a brief loan spell at Arsenal. AFP

Thierry Henry

French international and Premier League hero Thierry Henry was spending the last seasons of his career at MLS side New York Red Bulls. He had won everything a football player in Europe could win, and decided the lower-pressure environment of America would be preferable. But in January 2012, the chance arose to return to the club where he built his career: Arsenal. The Londoners needed a back-up striker and a two-month fairytale loan spell was confirmed. In his first game back, an FA Cup match against Leeds United, Henry scored after coming on as a sub. The Emirates Stadium roared in approval at the prodigal son's dramatic cameo.


12 Dec 1999: Andrei Shevchenko of AC Milan is chased by the Torino defence of Torino in action during the Italian Serie A match played at the San Siro in Milan, Italy. The game finished in a 2-0 win for Milan. \ Mandatory Credit: Claudio Villa /Allsport
Andriy Shevchenko's second spell at AC Milan didn't go well. Allsport

Andriy Shevchenko

Perhaps more well-known these days for his political work, Andriy Shevchenko was once one of the most feared strikers in world football. Starting his career with Dynamo Kiev, Shevchenko earned a move to AC Milan in Italy and went on to plunder 127 goals in 208 games. His move to Chelsea in 2006 was largely a disaster, as he scored just nine times in the Premier League in two years. He then performed the ultra-rare double return, moving back on loan to AC Milan before securing a permanent move back to his boyhood club, Dynamo Kiev. Milan was proof that not all returns turn out how players envisaged, as he failed to score in 18 appearances. He thankfully found his shooting boots back at Kiev though before retiring.


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