6 transfer returns that suggest Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott might have it hard

Bale

Homecomings are always nice, in theory.

Over the years, we've been treated to seeing trophy-laden returns for the likes of Ian Rush, Gerard Pique and Didier Drogba after spells away from the clubs they are most associated with, so the old adage of 'never go back' is at least somewhat wide of the mark.

Still, returning to old haunts is a risk. Maybe you found that too if you returned home over the course of the national lockdown.

There may be heart-warming moments (Thierry Henry's goal against Leeds on his Arsenal return springs to mind or the first taste of some good old home cooking) but for players not towards the end of their careers and with points to prove, reaching the heights they previously set can be an impossible task. 

That feels particularly relevant this season.

Perhaps the biggest name to have joined the Premier League over the course of the transfer window was Gareth Bale. Though he may return to Tottenham as a four-time Champions League winner, he's also a man so frozen out at Real Madrid that his situation turned into a long and drawn out joke.

While it's hard to doubt the Welshman's quality, he did leave North London after one of the most impressive individual seasons in Premier League history and, at 31, anyone would find it hard to replicate that.

Maybe that's not what Spurs fans are expecting but, after so long on the sidelines in the Spanish capital, it's hard to suggest Bale doesn't have anything to prove.

Cast aside from arguably the biggest team in world football, a player of that status will surely have a burning desire to prove he's not finished. 

While not as big a name, there's another interesting tale involving a former Southampton academy graduate. When Theo Walcott left the South Coast for Arsenal in 2006 he was regarded as one of the most exciting prospects in European football.

Signed to a lucrative Nike sponsorship at the age of 14 and linked with some of the biggest clubs around, Walcott returns as a 31-year-old who recently warmed Everton's bench. 

Both are quality players with successful careers behind them. However, homecomings don't always work and GMS has looked at some of the worst player returns in recent history as Walcott and Bale potentially prepare to make their second debuts this weekend. 

Fabio Cannavaro - Juventus, 2009

Fabio Cannavaro 2009


One of the most celebrated defenders of all time, Fabio Cannavaro's return to Juventus three years after leaving following the Calciopoli scandal was awkward, to say the least.

Where fellow World Cup winners Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon stayed with the Old Lady, Cannavaro's move to Real Madrid in 2006 created a sense of betrayal and, as a result, his second stint in Turin was one to forget.

Despite a good start, things quickly turned sour and the Ballon D'Or winner had become somewhat of a liability, getting sent off in the infamous collapse against Fulham in the Europa League second-round.

Released shortly after, it was destined to fail from the start given his relationship with Juventus supporters.

Age when returning: 35

League appearances: 27

Grade: F

Jermain Defoe - Bournemouth, 2017 

Jermain Defoe Bournemouth

No stranger to returning to former employers, Bournemouth's decision to bring Jermain Defoe back to the club where he enjoyed a prolific loan spell in 2000 was an absolute disaster.

In fairness, it's hard to argue with their logic due to the fact the veteran striker had been carrying an awful Sunderland side for years and worked his way back into the England set-up, but a reported £100k-per-week yielded just four goals.  

Walking away for free to join Steven Gerrard at Rangers, the financial worries the club have to deal with these days can't have been helped by the money wasted on him.

Age when returning: 34

League appearances: 28 

G/A contributions: 4

Grade: F

Joe Cole - West Ham, 2013 

Joe Cole - West Ham

Having made waves as a prodigious youngster in East London, Joe Cole returning to West Ham United in order to resurrect his career following an ill-fated move to Liverpool seemed like a feel-good story.

Here was an exceptionally talented product of the Hammers' famous academy coming home to enjoy his football once again. 

Sadly, years of injuries had taken their toll on his body and the midfielder was only able to make just over 30 appearances in 18 months at Upton Park before being released.

Considering just how hyped he was a youngster, it was a sad way for his time there to end. Time waits for no man, after all. 

Age when returning: 31

League appearances: 33

G/A contributions: 5

Grade: E

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Manchester United, 2017

Zlatan Ibrahmiovic 2017

Never one to have a story directed to him, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's return to Manchester United was an impressive feat of physical ability and testament to the sort of conditioning to have made the superstar Swede one of football's elite talents in modern history.

Still, the ACL injury he suffered against Anderlecht in April 2014 had limited him somewhat and his second stint was more of a farewell than anything, scoring once in just seven appearances across all competitions.

Indeed, it's hard to imagine he came cheap, given the fact he talks about himself in third-person. 

Age when returning: 35

League appearances: 2

G/A contributions: 1

Grade: D

Wayne Rooney - Everton, 2017

Rooney Everton

Wayne Rooney was just 31 when Manchester United moved him on.

So, in theory, had plenty of time to prove he wasn't yet finished at the top level after a career that somewhat petered out; an amazing thing to say for a man who holds the feat of being the top goalscorer for his country as well as one of the biggest teams in the world. 

There was, of course, the hat-trick against West Ham to savour but Rooney was clearly on the wane during his last season in the Premier League.

Operating either in midfield or as a No.10 in a largely dysfunctional Toffees side, very little of the street-football-like qualities which made him the most exciting English teenager in decades were there. 

Age when returning: 31

League appearances: 31 

G/A contributions: 12

Grade: C

Mario Gotze - Borussia Dortmund, 2016

Mario Gotze

The sight of Jurgen Klopp painfully revealing bitter rivals and all-conquering Bayern Munich had activated a release clause in Mario Gotze's contract back in 2013 was broadcast around the world.

With Borussia Dortmund warming up for a Champions League semi-final against Malaga, the news couldn't have come at a worse time as the final countdown began for BVB's pride and joy. 

After scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final and numerous titles wins in Bavaria then, a move back to his boyhood club was meant to re-ignite his career.

After all, he was he was still in his mid-twenties upon on his return and had a point to prove after playing a peripheral role with Bayern. 

However, 75 league appearances resulted in just eleven goals and thirteen assists amid injury and illness problems and the 28-year-old was released this summer, joining PSV recently. 

Age when returning: 24

League appearances: 75

G/A contributions: 24

Grade: C

GIVEMESPORT’S Jonathan Gorrie says…

Clearly, this is a reasonably small sample size but it does point out the problems which can stem from going back to a former club.

Bad memories can resurface such as they did with Cannavaro (remember Bale did go on strike to force through his initial move back in 2013) and former prodigies in Cole and Rooney struggled in the shadows of their teenage exploits at the same age the Welshman and Walcott are now. 

To write off players of such talent is a sure-fire way to fill your Twitter Mentions but history certainly isn't on their side. 

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