In an age where retirement brings a trip to America, Asia or possibly Australia for one final payday – something that has caught my eye over the last 10 years or so has been players that, as a last hurrah – go home to their first ever club and repay what has been done for them. It brought a smile from me when I saw that Mikkael Forssell, at the ripe old age of 35 – is back playing for HJK Helsinki, and still banging in the goals!
When you think about how much money these players make in the modern game, you wonder if there is any real need to go and play for another year or two in leagues that won’t fully appreciate what they have done for the game, and often a million miles from home. Just look at Frank Lampard – he has been labelled the worst ever signing by an MLS franchise – and you must consider some of the trash that has gone there over the years to realise how bad that is – why he didn’t go back to West Ham, or retire at Chelsea is beyond me, and probably something that he must be thinking now. A player who held records in the Premier League, and was heralded as one of the ‘Golden Generation’ is now struggling to get a game for an MLS side, to the point where he has been given a job by the BBC this summer, in the middle of the MLS season…
I believe a true hearted footballer should go back to where it all began, and usually to a place where they are adored by the fans. Not quite his first club, but I remember Pavel Srnicek returning to Newcastle for a 6 month spell when they had goalkeeping issues – and frankly you could see that the love of the fans meant more than anything in the world to him – he became an adopted Geordie in the 90’s in a near-10 year spell, that even the youngest of fans would remember. That’s what football is about. It brought tear to his eye, and thousands of fans worldwide, including myself.
Looking a little deeper – there are one particular set of players that seem to have this ingrained into them. That is the Argentinians. Having gone through a lot of their most famous – a great deal of those who left very young for pastures in Europe have come back for the final year or two of their careers. Two more shall also be added to the list of greats in the coming years – both Sergio Aguero (Independiente) and Lionel Messi (Newells Old Boys) have said that on the expiry of their current deals, they will return to Argentina.
They will follow in the footsteps of many greats – just consider these 18 names, who have done the same:
Ariel Ortega, Andres D’allesando, Pablo Aimar, Kily Gonzalez, Gabriel Heinze, Gabriel & Diego Milito, Fernando Gago, Daniel Montenegro, Diego Placente, Maradona, Maxi Rodriguez, Javier Saviola, Carlos Tevez, Juan Sebastian Veron, Jose Villarreal, Juan Roman Riquelme, Baros Schelotto.
A few of those are still playing – Tevez and Rodriguez, of Boca Juniors and Newell’s Old Boys – are still putting in the performances, with the former 32 and the latter 35. Both have done similar things – gone back at a fairly young age (around 31/32) to try and win titles with their boyhood clubs. Both are actually still playing for Argentina too, which goes to show you don’t need to be playing top level football in Europe!
Now, not all of those are greats of the game – but the likes of Ortega, Aimar, the Milito brothers, Riquelme, Maradona, Saviola, Tevez and Veron all have amazing career in Europe – they could have gone anywhere in the world for a short stint for a little extra pocket money – but instead they said no to all that, and with huge honour, respect and integrity – went back to the club that gave them their shot to say a final ‘Thank You’ – to fans and management alike.
It may only be a game or two like it was for Pablo Aimar, or Ariel Ortega – for some, a season and even for the likes of Maxi it’s been 3 or 4, but to me, and many others – it’s the sentiment that is the biggest thing. Footballers often get a bad name, simply because they are extremely well paid – but for me, the likes of the above should get a lot of respect and credibility for having the decency to refuse easy money in order to go back to the start and finish their career on the very same turf that it begun.