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Five famous footballing returns

November 29, 2016 in Opinion

Many Liverpool fans were hoping against hope that club icon Steven Gerrard might have one last hurrah at Anfield after leaving MLS club LA Galaxy.

Gerrard, 36, opted to end his playing career last week, but may one day return to Liverpool in another role – possibly as a coach and potential manager?

For a footballer, leaving the club where you are seen as a legend is an incredibly hard decision, but the chance to return as a player or manager can be an even bigger one.

Remind everyone why you became a hero in the first place, or ruin your reputation; which way will it fall?

Here are five of those who did it best:

5 – Graeme Le Saux – Chelsea

Graeme Le Saux’s first spell at Chelsea ended in anger but the second was glorious.

Le Saux was the most expensive defender in England at the time at £5m – a far cry from the £30m Chelsea recently paid for David Luiz to return to the club after a £50million move to PSG two years earlier – when he returned after a controversial first spell in west London. 17 Sep 2000: Graeme Le Saux of Chelsea in action during the FA Carling Premiership match against Leicester City at Stamford Bridge in London. Leicester City won the match 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Dave Cannon /Allsport

In 1993 Le Saux was a regular starter at Stamford Bridge, but rarely lasted the whole match, and when he was taken off at Southampton, it proved too much for him to take and he ripped off his shirt in disgust, throwing it on the feet of manager Ian Portfield.

The defender was soon on his way to Blackburn Rovers, where in his first full season, he helped them win the Premier League title and became an England regular.

In 1997 he returned to Chelsea, making him English football’s most expensive defender and in the next three years, they won the FA Cup, League Cup, Cup winner’s Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

Leaving Chelsea as the “villain” for showing disrespect to the manager was tough enough, but returning to the club that sold you after your misdemeanours is a risk Le Saux took and evidently it paid off.

4 – Thierry Henry – Arsenal

When Arsenal’s record goalscorer Thierry Henry left for Barcelona in 2007, after eight years, 245 appearances and 174 goals, a huge part of his heart remained in north London.

So in some ways it was no surprise when five years later he returned to train with the team, and, inevitably, play for them again. Henry celebrates after scoring the winner on his return to Arsenal.

By then Henry was playing for MLS side New York Red Bulls, and during their 2012 off-season, he trained with the Gunners to keep in shape.

But when they suffered an injury crisis, manager Arsene Wenger looked to his former talisman and he signed a two-month loan deal. ‘King’ Henry was back.

He made four appearances and scored twice; the first came in his debut when he scored the winner goal in an FA Cup tie against Leeds.

His last ever Gunners goal came in his final match under Wenger – again, the winner, in injury time for a 2-1 triumph at Sunderland. No wonder there is a statue of him outside the Emirates Stadium.

Henry is now Belgium’s assistant manager and a pundit on Sky Sports. Many Arsenal fans would love to see him succeed Wenger as manager one day. Is another hero’s return too much to ask for?

3 – Ian Rush – Liverpool

Ian Rush’s 346 goals in two spells at Liverpool make him the club’s all-time record goalscorer. At his peak in the 1980s, there was no-one to rival him in English football. Ian rush celebrates scoring at Wembley for Liverpool.

Having won four league titles and two European Cups in six years with the Reds, in 1987 Rush left to join Serie A giants Juventus. It did not go well, with just seven goals in 29 appearances for the Italians.

Loaned back to Liverpool for the second year of his Juventus contract, Rush’s Midas touch returned, as he scored 30 goals in 42 matches.

A permanent return home was just a matter of time, and the Welsh striker spent another eight seasons at Anfield, making 245 more appearances and adding a further 90 goals. During this time he also won another league title, two FA Cups and became their record goalscorer.

A legend? Unquestionably.

2 – Didier Drogba – Chelsea

Didier Drogba was not just a legend as a player; over two spells at Chelsea, he helped change the history of his club.

His first spell, after joining from Marseille in 2004, saw Chelsea win their first league title in 50 years, in his debut season.

Another Premier League title followed the next year, setting up a glorious era in which he became the first ever player to score in four different FA Cup finals, as well as the first African player to score 100 Premier League goals. But nothing compared to how he signed off his first stint at the club.

His 88th minute equaliser in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, in Munich, took the game to extra time and then penalties. And who scored the winner? Drogba, of course.Drogba celebrates scoring the winning goal in the Champions League final.

When he left that summer to join Chinese league side Shanghai Shenhua, after eight years, 226 appearances, 100 goals and eight trophies, a fan poll by Chelsea’s official club magazine saw the Ivorian named as the club’s best-ever player.

Supporters probably thought they would never see his like again. They were wrong.

Drogba’s stint in China was short-lived, and soon he was playing for Galatasaray in Turkey, where he added the 2013 Turkish Super Cup to his medal collection.

The following year, he was back at the Bridge, signing a one-year contract for manager Jose Mourinho – like Drogba, enjoying his second spell at Chelsea.

Drogba managed four more goal in 28 appearances, before announcing that the final game of the season against Sunderland would be his last for the club.

After half an hour, he had to come off injured, but rather than limping off, he was chaired off the field by his team-mates. Now that’s a stylish exit.

The success Drogba enjoyed in his first spell at Chelsea meant that coming back for a second time he had to be as good, if not better than he was previously. Undoubtedly, he was a good playing an integral part in saving Chelsea’s season and thats why he is second.

1 – Paul Scholes – Manchester United

An increasingly rare one-club man, Paul Scholes’ 466 appearances for Manchester United over 17 years make him one of the modern greats.

In his testimonial match in August 2011, the midfielder signed off with a 25-yard finish, showing that even though he was retiring, he had still not lost his touch and he could have played on for a while yet. But no-one expected that he would actually do so.

Five months later, with United going through an uncharacteristic rough patch, he was back, making his ‘second debut’ by coming on to score in the Manchester derby, and also finding the net in his first start second time around. Scholes makes his second debut for United in a Manchester derby.

He was persuaded to sign another one year contract extension, keeping him at United until the end of the following season, and retired for good at the end of the 2012-13 season – fittingly, picking up a yellow card in his farewell match. Well, he never was much of a tackler…

His total of 25 major trophies makes him the most decorated English footballer of all time, and he is now co-owner of Salford City FC, a coach at United and a pundit on BT Sport.

The fact that Scholes completely retired from football before returning to top level football looking fitter than ever, makes his comeback the greatest of all.

Iacono flies high to win Red Bull Street Style final

November 9, 2016 in I Was There

For many people, football’s international break is a chance to catch up on missed shows such as The Walking Dead or Eastenders. For others like myself it was a chance to delve into a new sport. 

After coming across Sky Sports’ promotion of the Red Bull Street Style world final on their website, I was filled with curiosity.

With the winter months in full flow, most people would be against the idea of going out on a chilly, blustery evening, but I was willing to broaden my horizons and watch a new sport.

Tickets cost £10 – peanuts in an age when prices to see elite sportspeople in action tend to be excessive and immoderate.

A tenner to witness some breathtaking displays of showboating in a world final was without doubt value for money.

The event took place at the Roundhouse in Camden, north London, and I was filled with excitement and eagerness to see a different style of football.

History 

The Red Bull Street Style is freestyle football’s premier tournament, where the world’s top tricksters go head-to-head against one another in a bid to impress the judges with their extravagant abilities.

The competition burst onto the scene in Brazil in 2008 and has also taken place in South Africa, Italy and Japan.

The 2014 event, back in Brazil, saw the most fluent freestylers from 44 nations battling it out for the biggest prize within their sport.

Britain’s Andrew Henderson, who has performed at Old Trafford and put Barcelona’s Neymar to the test in a freestyle battle, captured his first title with some dazzling showboating.

The rules are pretty straightforward. Three minutes, two players, one ball and one victor.

Atmosphere 

As I warmed up with burger and chips, excitement rippled through the Roundhouse crowd as it was announced that former Manchester United and England defender turned TV pundit Gary Neville was on the judging panel.

Gary Neville watching some skills on show

He was joined by Sean Garnier, the winner of the very first Red Bull Street Style in 2008.

Since then, the French star has been influencing and tracking the pulse of the sport and his name needed no introduction to the fans of freestyling.

The cheers were deafening for both Garnier and Sky Sports pundit Neville and the volume only kept increasing.

The atmosphere around the place was louder than most match days at the Emirates Stadium, with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ whenever someone did something amazing with the ball, plus moans and groans when competitors failed to get out of their comfort zone.

It was a superb showcase of jaw-dropping tricks and seemingly impossible transitions that left everyone astounded.

Talent on show 

With the biggest names in freestyle looking to stamp their authority on proceedings, the level of competition was so high that no-one was safe from elimination.

Portugal’s Ricardinho, one of the favourites to win, went out in the quarter-finals.

Another casualty was Ireland’s Daniel Dennehy, who oozed class and ability but was defeated by Carlos Alberto Iacono, the man from Argentina who was hoping it would be third time lucky in 2016.

After coming up just short in the last two tournaments, the man nicknamed ‘Charly’ was determined to claim the crown in London.

Donchet double

Ahead of the men’s final, the world’s best female freestylers got their chance to show off their talents.

The final between Melody Donchet of France and Poland’s Aguska Mnich was a truly gripping encounter.

In the semi-finals, Donchet had seemingly given her all to defeat long-time rival and double world champion Kitti Szasz of Hungary.

But there was more to come from her. In a fearless performance, the French star defeated Mnich with seamless transitions from standing to sit-down tricks and back up again.

Donchet’s ability to persevere when most fans felt she had nothing left in her bag of tricks was simply remarkable.

She secured her second consecutive title and, in the process, elevated her reputation to a new high.

Iacono on top 

In the men’s final, Iacono managed to get the monkey off his back by defeating Japan’s Kosuke Takahashi.

The Argentinian’s ability to ignore the noise from the crowd was one of the main reasons to why he delivered on the big stage.

Iacono celebrates his final win

At times it seemed like Iacono did have wings as he delivered the technical moves for which he is best known.

He sealed victory with one of the hardest handstand tricks ever seen, as he juggled the ball flawlessly on his calf.

Russian’s Anatoliy Yanchev earned third with a respectable performance, however Iacono’s feat earned him a rousing reception from the arena and his piece of history showed that you should never give up under any circumstances

As he admitted afterwards: “After losing several times, I was discouraged. But my heart told me you have to try again.”

And boy, did he deliver.

For more information about the competition, visit the Red Bull website.

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