21 players we’d love to see make a comeback in 2021: Ozil, Balotelli & more
2020 has been worse for some players than others, and we hope these furloughed stars can get back on track in 2021.
Are you sitting around in your pyjamas all day? Is your boss making life hard for you, even in these difficult times? Have you lost faith in world leaders? If so, you’ve got plenty in common with Mesut Ozil, one of many footballers to struggle through 2020.
We’ve come up with 21 down-on-their-luck pros who we’d love to see back on form in 2021.
1. Mesut Ozil
When Mikel Arteta took the Arsenal job, it looked like the perfect opportunity for Mesut Ozil to rediscover his creative spark.
Instead, the German has been frozen out and might not play a minute this season.
If Arteta and Ozil can’t reconcile their differences, let’s hope the midfielder, now 32, finds a new home before it’s too late.
2. Christian Eriksen
The fate of Mesut Ozil might be linked with that of Christian Eriksen, another once-celebrated Premier League playmaker.
Arsenal are reportedly considering a move for the Inter outcast, but only if they can shift Ozil first. And that’s a fairly big ‘if’.
It would be brilliant to see the thin-haired Dane back in England.
3. Jack Wilshere
At least Ozil is getting paid. Poor Jack Wilshere, who turns 29 today, left West Ham in October and has been without a club since.
He’s currently training at Bournemouth to keep up his fitness, but no club has declared their interest in the free agent.
Someone could surely take a chance on the talented midfielder. Burnley and their new owners, perhaps?
4. Daniel Sturridge
Another forgotten man from England’s Euro 2016 squad, Daniel Sturridge has been without a club since March 2020.
Rewind to 2016 and you might not have expected Jamie Vardy, then 29 and looking like a one-season wonder, to outlast Sturridge, who was then only 26.
There’s still time for the two-time Champions League winner. We think.
5. Mario Balotelli
From a beloved Liverpool striker to a ridiculed one, you can’t help feel a bit sorry for Mario Balotelli.
The mercurial forward was hung out to dry by his last club Brescia, whose ‘controversial’ owner Massimo Cellino publicly criticised him.
But Super Mario recently moved to Serie B club Monza, owned by Silvio Berlusconi, where he scored with his first touch on his debut.
Things might be looking up.
6. Gaetano Berardi
Like Balotelli, Leeds defender Gaetano Berardi lists Brescia among the clubs on his CV, and his 2020 was nearly as bad as Balotelli’s.
The Switzerland international did his ACL in July shortly before his contract expired, but the Yorkshire club kept him around for rehab then gave him a one-year deal in October.
He could be back by February and deserves a taste of Premier League action.
7. Danny Rose
Rose hasn’t been a Leeds player since 2007. And he hasn’t been on a football pitch since last season.
Amazon Prime tried to make a villain out of Rose for the All or Nothing documentary, but we felt sorry for the Spurs full-back, who missed out on a January move to AC Milan and ended up on loan at Newcastle.
Still just 30, he doesn’t even have a squad number at Tottenham.
8. Tom Heaton
Another forgotten player who was actually in an England squad quite recently, nice guy Tom Heaton earned a big move to Aston Villa in 2019 before getting a nasty knee injury in January 2020.
Villains missed Heaton a lot, especially when the ancient Pepe Reina was trying to be a ‘sweeper keeper’ in his stead.
Now fit again, Heaton isn’t going to start ahead of Emiliano Martinez and probably needs a move if he wants to play.
9. Yannick Bolasie
The Villa faithful took rather less warmly to Yannick Bolasie, who had a mediocre loan spell in the Midlands during the 2018–19 season.
Now 31, the five-star-skill-moves winger is still on the books at Everton, where he has made just 29 league appearances since 2016.
Can’t Palace just sign him as an emergency backup?
10. Michy Batshuayi
Speaking of Palace, you have to feel sorry for Michy Batshuayi and his terrible 2020.
Even though Roy Hodgson is playing an uncharacteristically adventurous 4-2-4 every now and again, Batshuayi still can’t get a minute ahead of non-scoring strikers like Christian Benteke and Jordan Ayew.
He needs a comeback, but first he needs a proper home.
11. Connor Wickham
Selhurst Park really is a knacker’s yard, isn’t it?
Maybe that’s a bit unfair, since Nathaniel Clyne seems to be coming back to life in South London, but just look at poor Connor Wickham and his six(!) injury-hit seasons in blue and red.
He did score a single heartwarming goal for Palace last season, but the 27-year-old(!) will hope for better things in 2021.
We considered Max Meyer too, but we’re not actually sure he exists.
12. Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Just one more Palace alumnus.
Loftus-Cheek went to the 2018 World Cup then had a brilliant season at Chelsea before getting injured in a pointless friendly against New England Revolution.
That long-term injury denied him an appearance in the Europa League final and put serious brakes on his development.
Now on loan at Fulham, he’ll be hoping for more regular starts in 2021.
13. Jesse Lingard
Lingard also went to the World Cup and was a key member of Gareth Southgate’s team, keeping Loftus-Cheek on the bench.
But a lot has changed in two and a half years.
Regularly mocked by ABUs — and no longer very popular in Manchester either — Lingard has had an utterly terrible year.
Given that his biggest crime is his love of choreographed celebrations, we can’t help feeling that Lingard has been treated harshly. He deserves a comeback, at Old Trafford or elsewhere.
14. Phil Jones
Does Jones deserve a comeback? The 28-year-old at least deserves a chance to rebuild his shattered reputation, having been cyber-bullied by Twitter — the platform itself, not just its users — in 2020.
Get him to Roma, pronto.
15. Shinji Kagawa
Japanese midfielder Kagawa actually won a Premier League title alongside Jones in the 2012–13 season, and plenty of Manchester United fans wish he’d stuck around longer.
Kagawa returned to Dortmund instead, where he was good for a few seasons but fell out of favour under Lucien Favre. He spent last season in the Spanish second division with Zaragoza.
He’s been unattached since October but could still do a job at 31, we assume.
16. Mario Gotze
Kagawa’s decline has been nowhere near as severe as that of Mario Gotze, once the golden boy of German football.
Half a decade ago, it was easy to hate Gotze, given his betrayal of Dortmund and his annoying goal that prevented a much-needed penalty shootout in the 2014 World Cup Final. Now he just invites sympathy.
In fairness to him, he’s been good in his half-season at PSV Eindhoven since moving in the summer, and he’ll hope to build on that in 2021.
17. Marco Reus
Reus was an injury-plagued German before it was cool, and he duly sat out the second half of last season with a muscle problem.
It would be lovely if the Dortmund attacker finally got to win a Bundesliga title, but given that Dortmund are already eight points adrift of Bayern, they need to sort their shit out quickly to make it happen.
18. Thomas Lemar
In the summer of 2017, Lemar had just won an unlikely Ligue 1 title with Monaco, playing in a fun attack alongside Kylian Mbappe, Radamel Falcao and Bernardo Silva.
He won the World Cup a year later.
Those Monaco stars have since been auctioned off to the highest bidder, and it was Atletico Madrid who stumped up for the talented Lemar.
To say he failed to settle would be an understatement: he didn’t provide a single goal or assist over the 2019–20 season. The world deserves to see more of him.
19. Diego Costa
Lemar is still fighting for his place at Atletico, but actual fighter Diego Costa recently left the club for a third time.
Please let him sign for Arsenal.
20. Philippe Coutinho
We’re approaching the three-year anniversary of Coutinho’s £105million transfer to Barcelona, which hasn’t worked out very well for player or club.
The Brazilian midfielder just got an injury which could keep him out for a few months, but he could still yet things round: he’s only 28 and remains as talented as ever.
21. Andy Carroll
This January marks a decade since Liverpool paid £35 million for burly Newcastle striker Andy Carroll.
Frankly, it’s a tragedy that he and Coutinho never got to play together.
Carroll, now back on Tyneside and nearing his 32nd birthday, has already made a minor comeback of sorts, in that his aggressive jostling won Newcastle a 97th-minute penalty against Tottenham in September.
If the striker can register just a single Premier League goal for Newcastle before his contract expires at the end of the season, then 2021 will officially beat 2020.