14 great players that returned to the Premier League for a second spell

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Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo after the victory at West Ham, September 2021.

You’d have got long odds on it four years ago but Philippe Coutinho’s move to Aston Villa in the January 2022 window has captured the imagination at Villa Park.

Coutinho joined Barcelona from Liverpool in 2018 for a fee of £142million but failed to make the desired impact at the Camp Nou. Villa boss Steven Gerrard, who played with the Brazil international at Anfield, spied an opportunity and swooped to sign the attacking midfielder.

But he is not the first great player to make a return to the English top-flight. We take a look at 14 others who have left the Premier League only to come back at a later date.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Only those who’ve spent the last five months under a rock can be unaware of Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United.

Snaffled from the under the noses of Manchester City, the 36-year-old’s return to Old Trafford was greeted with a slew of celebratory tweets – that only intensified after Ronaldo scored twice on his second debut against Newcastle.

Things haven’t gone to plan since though. Ronaldo has scored regularly but he’s failed to inspire the expected title challenge – whatever Roy Keane says – and the Portugal international has cut a frustrated figure over recent weeks.

There’s even been unconfirmed reports that Ronaldo wishes to leave Old Trafford although he’s settled for publically demanding that his team-mates work harder.

All in all, Ronaldo could be forgiven for thinking he’s returned to a different club than the one he bestrode in the 2000s.

Thierry Henry 

Henry’s move to Barcelona in the summer of 2007 was largely unexpected, with many expecting the striker to make the same move following Arsenal’s defeat in the 2006 Champions League final. Instead, he signed a new deal but still moved on a year later.

After eventually finding his way to New York Red Bulls, Henry returned to north London from the Big Apple on a two-month loan deal in January 2012. It was a brief return to the top-flight, but goals against Leeds United in the FA Cup and Sunderland in the Premier League ensured it was iconic.

Jurgen Klinsmann

Klinsmann had a tough task on his hands to win over his new audience, after arriving in England in 1994 with a reputation for being a diver. One journalist even wrote an entire article detailing why they hated him upon his arrvival.

But a self-deprecating celebration and 30 goals later he had done just that. After just one season, however, he was off to Germany with Bayern Munich. He would return on loan two years later to save Spurs from relegation during the 1997-98 campaign.

READ: A celebration of Jurgen Klinsmann & a signing that changed English football

Didier Drogba 

Drogba penned the perfect final chapter to his eight-year Chelsea career in 2012, slotting home a Champions League-winning penalty in Munich. But two years later, after spending time in China and Turkey, he was back.

“I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work with José again,” he said in 2014. “Everyone knows the special relationship I have with this club and it has always felt like home to me. My desire to win is still the same and I look forward to the opportunity to help this team. I am excited for this next chapter of my career.”

I suppose the Premier League he added to his tally a year later is also not a bad ending.


Voted Middlesbrough’s greatest ever player in 2007, Juninho Paulista was part of an iconic time at the Riverside. Either side of a spell with Atletico Madrid, he was consistently brilliant.

READ: A tribute to the fantastic but flawed Middlesbrough side of 1996-97

Gareth Bale 

When Bale left Tottenham for Real Madrid in 2013, he did so as the most expensive player of all time. Upon his return on loan last season, he had four Champions League winners medals around his neck but close to zero popularity at the Bernabeu.

His return was certainly no failure, finding the net 16 times in 34 appearances, even if it would turn into an unstable season for Spurs.

Paul Pogba 

Pogba’s return to Manchester United was met with enormous excitement as well as a new age for elaborate transfer announcements on social media.

So far, it is hard to judge the move’s success. Sure, the Frenchman has not matched the dazzling ability displayed frequently with Juventus. But at the same time, he certainly has not been a BAD signing for the club either. Either way, his ability to consistently boil the piss of Graeme Souness is invaluable.

Nicolas Anelka 

A man with a hat-trick of Premier League returns to his name. After leaving Arsenal for Real Madrid before moving to Paris, Anelka made a permanent return to the English top-flight with Manchester City following a loan at Liverpool.

But good luck trying to tie Anelka down. Three years later he was off to Turkey with Fenerbahce, only for Bolton to snap him up a year later. A move to Chelsea followed before he again left the country, this time for China and Shanghai Shenhua. But he had one more stint in the Premier League in him and West Brom were the lucky recipients. A true legend of this very niche genre.

READ: Nicolas Anelka: ‘Le Sulk’ who inspired plenty of smiles at Arsenal & Chelsea

Sol Campbell 

“For both club and country, Sol’s career just speaks for itself. He is a hugely experienced and intelligent footballer, who will bring a great amount of quality and knowledge to our squad. Sol as a player and a person will be an enormous asset to us.”

Those were the words of Arsene Wenger, speaking to Arsenal’s official website after bringing Campbell in on a short-term deal following his disastrous move to League Two side Notts County. Because of injuries to Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas, the centre-back even found himself starting frequently but was still released at the end of the 2009-10 season.

Mo Salah 

“It was always in my mind to come back to the Premier League to show the people who said I wasn’t a success the first time. It was always in my mind to become a success in the Premier League,” Salah told Sky Sports News upon his return to the top-flight with Liverpool.

You probably don’t need us to tell you just how well that return has gone, either.

READ: The 11 players in Europe with the most goals & assists since Salah’s LFC debut

Joe Cole

Following a legendary stint with Chelsea, Cole made the move to Liverpool, which did not go particularly well for him.

After just one year with the Reds, he was loaned out to Ligue 1 side Lille for the 2011-12 campaign before rejoining West Ham upon his return. 37 appearances and five goals followed before a final Premier League hurrah with Aston Villa came around, with equally underwhelming results.

Michael Owen

Many felt that Owen was incredibly underrated during his season with Real Madrid, scoring 13 La Liga goals despite largely being confined to substitute appearances.

But there was huge excitement in Newcastle when they brought him in during the 2005 summer transfer window, a feeling not felt since.

The former Liverpool striker later had spells with Manchester United and Stoke City before hanging up his boots in 2013.

READ: Michael Owen: A beacon of hope at Newcastle not seen since

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

Hasselbaink spent two seasons with Leeds United before astronomical contract demands led to his exit, according to then-manager David O’Leary.

Atletico Madrid picked up the bill, and the Dutchman had a fantastic season in Spain, netting 24 times in La Liga. That form caught the eye of Chelsea and so the lethal marksman returned to the English top-flight in 2000.

He scored 87 goals in 177 appearances for the Blues before seeing out his playing career at Middlesbrough, Charlton and Cardiff City.

Robbie Keane 

Coventry City benefitted from Keane’s services for just one Premier League season before he jetted off to Inter Milan to play for Marcello Lippi.

But his fortunes at the San Siro soured when Lippi was replaced by Marco Tardelli. With just 14 appearances to his name, he was back in England with Leeds United, first on loan and then permanently in May 2001.

The former Republic of Ireland international also had spells at Liverpool, West Ham and Aston Villa but is best remembered for his time at Tottenham.

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