10 player homecomings that lived up to the hype, as Tim Cahill re-signs with Millwall
"The romance of the story is definitely not lost on me," said Tim Cahill. Not his personal review of The Notebook, but the 38-year-old's assessment of his return to play for Millwall. The Australian midfielder, scorer of 50 goals for his country, spent seven formative seasons at The Den and even helped Millwall to an FA Cup final in 2004, before a transfer to Everton in that summer.
Cahill's return to south London over 13 years later is one of the less likely returning hero stories. Yet he can look to these footballers for inspiration. Whether it’s debut goals, trophies or player of the season nominations, these 10 stars had reason to celebrate their second chances with former clubs that they had a strong attachment to.
1. Dirk Kuyt (Feyenoord)
Years between departure and return: 9
One man may not be able to change a club’s fortunes, but Kuyt came pretty close on his return to Feyenoord. As far as his scoring record is concerned, his best years came in a spell from 2003-06, when he notched an impressive 81 goals in 124 appearances – a return which helped bring about a move to Liverpool.
He may not have been the most glamorous of centre-forwards, but Kuyt eventually won the Anfield faithful over with his phenomenal work-rate and never-say-die attitude. The Dutchman helped the Reds to a League Cup and Champions League final, scoring in the 2-1 defeat by Milan in 2007.
On his homecoming to Feyenoord in 2015/16, Kuyt netted 23 goals in 38 games. However, it was his second season was the real star turn, culminating with a Kuyt a hat-trick on the final weekend to bring the title back to De Kuip after an 18-year absence. He promptly hung up his boots a few days later, the football equivalent of the ultimate mic drop.
2. Stanley Matthews (Stoke)
Years between departure and return: 14
Matthews spent 15 years at Stoke the first time around, before joining Blackpool when the league returned after the Second World War in 1946. Having made more than 200 appearances in his first spell with the Potters, Matthews went on to play in more than 300 games for the Tangerines.
At the ripe old age of 46, most footballers would have packed it all in - particularly if they'd also gone through a war. Yet Matthews opted to re-sign for Stoke in 1962 and immediately set about silencing those who questioned whether he was past it. The winger won the FWA Footballer of the Year award in his first season back in the Potteries, and was soon knighted for his services to football. He went on playing until the age of 50, becoming the oldest player to ever appear in England's top tier.
3. Thierry Henry (Arsenal)
Years between departure and return: 5
It may only have been a brief loan move, and his return would have been even more special had it been at Highbury, but there was still a romanticism to the two-time PFA Player of the Year winner scoring the decisive goal for Arsenal in his first game back against Leeds.
Collecting possession 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute in the FA Cup tie, Henry looked like he hadn’t aged a bit, calmly slotting the ball into the far corner of the goal in trademark fashion before running off to celebrate with Arsene Wenger and the home fans. The Frenchman only made six more appearances for the Gunners before returning to New York Red Bulls to end his career in the U.S., but his exploits in north London will never be forgotten.
4. Wayne Rooney (Everton)
Years between departure and return: 13
This originally looked a signing motivated by sentimentality - and publicity - then a smart football decision. In the summer of 2017, Everton appeared a club on the rise, just as Wayne was on the wane. It hasn't quite worked out like that. While the club have struggled, Rooney has been a rare bright spark. He's scored 10 goals in 17 league games, including a magnificent hat-trick against West Ham capped by a goal from inside his own half.
That means Rooney has more goals already in 2017/18 than in either of his two full seasons as a teenage tyro at Goodison, before he departed for Manchester United in 2004. There may be debate as to his best position and whether he and Gylfi Sigurdsson can play alongside one another, but Rooney's glee as he scores each goal for his boyhood club is clear.