With the transfer window slammed shut, £835million spent and the international break done and dusted, a host of new arrivals are set to make their debuts when the Premier League kicks off again.
For the stars returning for a second taste of English football, it becomes an anxious wait to find out whether they still have what it takes in England’s top flight. After all, it is rare for players to be given another opportunity to shine in what is widely regarded as the greatest league in the world.
Clubs taking back a returning ace always run a high risk of failure; Newcastle United found that out to their cost when Michael Owen simply wasn’t the player he once was when they signed him from Real Madrid.
Uncertainty aside, who doesn’t love an ex-Premier League icon going back for more, especially when the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Mario Balotelli and Didier Drogba are first up this season to make their comebacks?
Ballotelli – unpredictable, controversial and wildly talented – was a surprise signing when Liverpool swooped for him following the departure of Luis Suarez. Disciplinary issues, great goals and off-field incidents ensured the Italian hit the headlines for right and wrong reasons during his spell with Manchester City. Without doubt, the Premier League is a more interesting place with him in it – and he is back to prove a point.
It’s like seeing your ex with someone new for heartbroken Arsenal fans watching Cesc Fabregas. It will take some time to get used to the Spaniard donning his blue no. 4 shirt for Chelsea. It was rumoured all summer that Fabregas would make a return to the Emirates, despite Arsene Wenger’s apparent lack of interest in his former captain. In his eight years at Arsenal, the Spaniard made 212 top-flight appearances, scoring 35 goals and chalking up 77 assists.
Despite being linked to Manchester City, Didier Drogba is back at the Bridge after securing Champions League glory with the decisive spot-kick in 2012. The 36-year-old striker and Blues favourite is Chelsea’s fourth-highest goal scorer with 157 goals in 341 appearances. He insists he is back to contribute to the club’s trophy ambitions, a sentiment echoed by boss Jose Mourinho.
For all the undoubted quality Balotelli and co. possess, what is the success rate of players returning for a second attempt in the Premier League?
After his Arsenal exit in 2005, Patrick Vieira spent five years abroad before making his Premier League comeback at Manchester City, much to the Arsenal faithful’s dismay. His contribution to world football during his playing days was extraordinary and despite his second spell being plagued by injury, the Frenchman still played 28 games, scored three goals and won the FA Cup against Stoke at Wembley. How about that for a second run in the Premier League?
Another returning ex-Arsenal player was Manu Petit, who signed for Chelsea form Barcelona in 2001 for £7.5m. Despite being a first-team regular, Petit flopped in his first season. He improved in his second term in a blue shirt, scoring twice against Everton in the League Cup and the Gunners in a league clash. However, due to a series of knee injuries, he spent most of his final season watching from the sidelines before retiring in 2004.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink began his Premier League career at Leeds in 1997 before signing for Atletico Madrid two years later. He made his Premier League return, signing for Chelsea in 2000 and went from strength to strength. He scored 55 goals in his first two seasons. Goals were harder to come by in his last two seasons but his record in London was: 87 goals, 177 appearances.
When luring back ex-Premier League players, managers run the risk of them returning that little bit older, creakier, perhaps wiser but more prone to injury. Vieira, Petit and Hasselbaink have shown that those who have the desire can take the league by storm again.
This time round, Fabregas has already made a fantastic start, while Balotelli’s Liverpool debut was average at best. However, I think he has the fire in his belly to show the Premier League just what it missed during his time in Italy.
And with the long-running rumours of Fab, Drog and Balo becoming a reality this summer, could there be more to come one day, perhaps in the shape of Jermain Defoe, Carlos Tevez and what about superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale?
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