Ronaldo done: Six players who returned to Man Utd for a second spell

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Manchester United have welcomed back some of their former players with open arms over the years – but it hasn’t always gone to plan.

After leaving United for Real Madrid in an £80million deal in 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo has now become the latest player to return to Old Trafford.

We’ve looked at six other players who had a second spell at United to see how they fared.


Mark Hughes

A United academy graduate, Hughes scored 47 goals in 121 appearances under Ron Atkinson before joining Barcelona in the summer of 1986. 

“I was just trying to play my game. I was quite happy. I was centre-forward for Manchester United, for goodness sake,” Hughes told the United podcast in April 2021. 

“And I was coming in here week-in, week-out to play in front of 40,000. I was having a great time, I didn’t particularly want to go anywhere.

“But I think it got to a point where there was an assumption that well, actually, you want to leave, you’re going to leave, so it’s going to happen.”

After failing to make a major impact at Camp Nou, the striker was brought back to Old Trafford by Sir Alex Ferguson in 1988. 

Over the following seven years, he scored another 116 goals and helped the Red Devils win two Premier League titles, two FA Cups, a League Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Les Sealey

Sealey first joined United on loan from Luton Town in December 1989 and was thrust into the spotlight for the 1990 FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace after Ferguson dropped Jim Leighton.

Having made several saves to help his side win 1-0, he then made the move permanent and later starred in the 1991 European Cup-Winners’ Cup final victory against Barcelona. 

The goalkeeper rejected a new contract and joined Aston Villa in 1991 before returning to Old Trafford on a free transfer 18 months later. 

He acted as a back-up to Peter Schmeichel and only made two first-team appearances during his second spell at the club, including a 3-1 defeat to Villa in the 1994 League Cup final.

Mark Bosnich

Bosnich first joined United at the age of 17, playing three games in two seasons before work permit complications forced his return to Australia in 1991. 

He was brought back to Old Trafford to replace Schmeichel in 1999 and won the Premier League title as their No.1 in 1999-2000. 

The goalkeeper fell down the pecking order following Fabien Barthez’s arrival and joined Chelsea on a free transfer in January 2001.

“Mark Bosnich was a terrible professional,” Ferguson later said in his autobiography. “We played down at Wimbledon and Bosnich was tucking into everything: sandwiches, soups, steaks. He was going through the menu.”

“I told him, ‘For Christ’s sake, Mark, we’ve got the weight off you. Why are you tucking into all that stuff?’

“We arrived back in Manchester, and Mark was on (his) mobile phone to a Chinese restaurant to order a takeaway. Is there no end to you? I just couldn’t make an impact on him.”

Paul Scholes

A member of the Class of ’92, Scholes enjoyed a glittering career at Old Trafford and made what was thought to be his final appearance in United’s 3-1 defeat by Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League final.

Seven months after announcing his retirement, the midfielder was surprisingly named on the bench for an FA Cup game against Manchester City. 

“I think I trained once with the first team before I came back in January 2012,” Scholes told BT Sport in 2018.

“I had to sort some boots out so I went down to the local shop and bought a pair of cheap boots for £50 because I hadn’t got a sponsor. We couldn’t let Nike know because it’d be obvious I was coming back.”

He came off the bench against City and made another 41 appearances before hanging up his boots for a second time after winning his 11th Premier League title in 2012-13.

READ: A tribute to young Paul Scholes (he scores goals) at Manchester United

Paul Pogba

Despite being part of United’s FA Youth Cup winning side in 2011Pogba only made seven senior appearances under Ferguson. 

After refusing to sign a new contract at Old Trafford, he joined Juventus on a free transfer in 2012 in search of regular first-team opportunities.

The France international established himself as one of the best midfielders in the world before moving back to United in an £89million deal in 2016. 

“My mother always told me: ‘You will go somewhere but come back.’ She always said this,” Pogba told the official Manchester United podcast in 2020.

“I was like: ‘We will see’ but you know mothers and the things she said: ‘You will come back here, don’t worry,’ and that was just after. She said: ‘You will come back to Manchester, don’t worry,’ and I did.

“When I came back, I was really happy to come back. I left it and didn’t finish. I started something but I didn’t finish, I just went somewhere else.

“Obviously, coming back to where I started was, for me, why I was really happy. Now, I was ready to come as a confirmed player, not a youth player.”

Despite winning the Europa League and the EFL Cup in 2016-17, he had a turbulent relationship with Jose Mourinho but is now showcasing his best form under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. 

The midfielder now has just 10 months left on his contract and continues to be linked with a move away from Old Trafford for a second time.

Tom Heaton

Heaton came through the academy at United but never made a first-team appearance for the club and left on a free transfer in 2010.

The goalkeeper has since enjoyed spells in the Championship and the Premier League at Cardiff City, Bristol City, Burnley and Aston Villa.

After leaving Villa at the end of 2020-21, he signed a two-year contract at United and will act as back-up to David de Gea and Dean Henderson. 

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