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Seven of the best redemption stories of 2019–20: Lukaku, Ighalo, Bruce…

This might be the worst year of your life, but the 2019–20 season has been full of heartwarming comebacks and tales of redemption.

Some things are easy to predict. Like Bayern collecting their millionth consecutive title, or Kevin De Bruyne handing out assists like sweets.

But some things come from out of the blue.

Coronavirus was one of those things, but so is the resurgence of fallen figures like Steve Bruce, Kieran Tripper and forgotten Crystal Palace striker Alexander Sorloth.

These players and bosses fell to their lowest ebb over the last few seasons but have returned in style to light up 2019–20.

Here are six of the biggest redemption stories of the season. Fair play to them all.

1. Danny Welbeck

Given how little he’s featured over recent years, it’s strange to think that Danny Welbeck went to the 2018 World Cup.

Through little fault of his own, he had begun to seem like part of a bygone era.

So when Welbeck joined Watford on a free transfer last summer, pretty much everyone hoped he would put his injuries behind him and do well.

The worry, however, was that this could be just another instance of a crocked star joining an inferior club before disappearing altogether — like Kieron Dyer at QPR, Michael Owen at Stoke and Daniel Sturridge at West Brom.

Welbeck has only scored once in the Premier League this season, but his majestic bicycle kick against Norwich was the best thing he’s done in years.

Let’s hope there’s more to come.

2. Steve Bruce

Steve Bruce had a shit time over the 2018–19 season.

The former Manchester United defender lost both his parents in 2018, and in October of that year he was sacked by Aston Villa.

In his last match with the Villains, a fan threw a cabbage at him.

Things didn’t improve at the turn of the year. Sheffield Wednesday hired Bruce in January 2019, but the manager was criticised for taking time off before assuming managerial duties.

None of that was his fault, but you can still understand why Newcastle fans were underwhelmed by Bruce’s appointment last summer.

He was, after all, a former Sunderland manager who had recently struggled in the Championship.

But all things considered, Bruce has been a big success. Newcastle are currently 13th, and you’d definitely hang out with the big Geordie over Sean Dyche or Chris Wilder.

3. Alexander Sorloth

Around Christmas 2018, Alexander Sorloth was a joke.

Having signed for Crystal Palace for £9million in January 2018, the Norwegian striker struggled to get a look in, and by Christmas he’d made 16 Premier League appearances without scoring a goal.

But he was still making headlines.

That’s because one happy-go-lucky Norwegian fan resolved to make Sorloth the captain of his Fantasy Premier League team, through thick and thin, despite the striker’s struggles.

Since he wasn’t doing much playing, Sorloth even had time to write a letter to the fan, thanking him for his support and patience.

Palace soon sent the striker on loan to Gent in Belgium.

In 2019–20, everything changed.

Sorloth moved on loan to Trabzonspor in Turkey and immediately discovered his shooting boots: to date, he’s found the net 21 times, keeping his side in a title race.

Meanwhile, Palace themselves continue to struggle in front of goal. Their entire squad has managed just 30 between them.

Rest assured, players of Super Lig fantasy football are picking Sorloth without a trace of irony.

4. Romelu Lukaku (and Ashley Young)

Unfairly targeted and victims of bad management, there’s no doubt that Romelu Lukaku and Ashley Young were having a bad time at Man United — even after the latter was made captain.

So both players moved to Antonio Conte’s Inter, where they’ve come close to knocking Juventus off their perch.

You can argue that Lukaku and Young never underperformed that badly at United, but even their harshest critics would admit that they’ve improved dramatically this year, in particular the brilliant Belgian striker.

United aren’t missing Lukaku right now, but Inter certainly aren’t regretting his £73million transfer.

And he’s still only 27.

5. Kieran Trippier

After becoming an unlikely hero at the 2018 World Cup, Kieran Tripper crashed back down to earth during the 2018–19 season, struggling with form, injuries and haircuts.

“I was getting murdered on the pitch,” he later admitted. “I was making silly errors.”

But this year Trippier is doing far better than his former Spurs team-mates.

The full-back has had an impressive first season with Atletico Madrid, who — unlike Tottenham — are still in the Champions League after dumping out Liverpool.

Diego Costa apparently calls him “Rooney”, which is good.

6. Lys Mousset

For an uncomfortably long time, stats website WhoScored rated Lys Mousset as the overall worst-performing player across Europe’s top five leagues.

That was mainly down to Eddie Howe restricting him to last-minute cameos for Bournemouth, but there was some truth behind the numbers. Frenchman Mousset was a disastrous signing for the Cherries.

Little about Mousset’s three(!) seasons with Bournemouth suggested he was worth £10million.

So when Sheffield United paid precisely that amount to sign the hapless forward, the Blades’ relegation seemed almost assured.

Turns out he’s pretty bloody handy.

Mousset has scored six league goals — more than any of his team-mates — while sharing forward duties with Billy Sharp, Oli McBurnie and David McGoldrick.

His best performance was in a 3-0 win over Burnley, where he grabbed a hat-trick of assists.

A bargain, and a fine redemption story too.

7. Odion Ighalo

When Odion Ighalo completed his dream move to Man United, he faced an uphill battle from day one.

Critics saw the loan transfer as indicative of United’s failings, and Ed Woodward didn’t help matters by talking nonsense about social media numbers.

But Ighalo also had a more general point to prove: in 2016–17, his final (half) season with Watford, he scored just once in 18 games, departing England with his stock having fallen.

While the Nigerian hasn’t scored in any of his league cameos, he has found the net every time he’s started in the cups.

In just a few games, he’s gone from the butt of the joke to a potential cult hero.

By Benedict O’Neill


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