The arrival of Halloween may only provide a quirky backdrop to the latest batch of fixtures, but there’s no escaping the unmistakable fear of a former player returning to haunt your club. Manchester United will have their attention firmly fixed on events at the Bridge tonight, but with star striker Robin van Persie set to be rested, the Dutchman will be eagerly anticipating the visit of Arsenal on Saturday.
The unbridled excitement that surrounds players set to revisit their former stomping grounds can perhaps be attributed to the curious case of Dennis Law in 1974. The pint-sized Scot arrived at Old Trafford in the unfamiliar sky blue strip, having departed Manchester United after a decade covered in glory.
With the match evenly poised at 0-0, Law popped up in the box and steered a cheeky back heel into the net. The travelling support erupted with joy, leaving Law to trudge back to the halfway line seemingly mortified that he’d consigned United to the depths of League Two. As it turns out, the Red Devils were destined for relegation anyway but the hunger and desire for an equally compelling narrative was born.
In recent years we’ve witnessed Liverpool’s Gary McAllister remain just as dignified when his thumping 30-yard free-kick sealed former club Coventry City’s demotion. Phil Neville has also scored a penalty that sent Sir Alex Ferguson crashing out of the FA Cup but such examples lack the same alluring charm and the nation still waits for a story of real magnitude.
In 2009 Emmanuel Adebayor injected a tasty subplot into the resurgence of Manchester City when he sprinted the entire length of the pitch to gloat in front of the travelling Arsenal support. His egotistical celebration attracted so much exposure that he effectively made the 4-2 victory obsolete and served only to highlight the public’s lust for controversy.
The modern day serial offenders include Jermain Defoe, who has bagged strikes against Portsmouth and West Ham since rejoining Tottenham and Craig Bellamy, a man who could be a thorn in anyone’s side, especially as he has scored against both Liverpool and Manchester City during stints at the opposite club.
Spare a thought for French giants Paris Saint-Germain, who despite the fact their bank account now resembles a bottomless pit, have endured no less than 14 ex-Parisian protégées score against them while at rvials Marseille. Former front man Florian Maurice found the net four times against PSG, claiming that the encounters always had a special significance for him, especially thanks to the circumstances in which he left.
“I felt a mix of satisfaction and vengeance when I scored against PSG. I wasn’t well-treated up there, so I was always keen to take them on and score against them – it had a special flavour.” (Fifa.com)
Robin van Persie isn’t the only name to look out for at the weekend, with near enough every Premier League fixture boasting the possibility of a former face decorating the scoresheet. Darren Bent returns to Sunderland with his struggling Aston Villa side although they’re doubts over whether he’ll play.
Carlos Tevez may have to ask for forgiveness once more when he visits Upton Park on Saturday while the clash between Liverpool and Newcastle should have hailed the return of local lad Andy Carroll, but all eyes will be on Jose Enrique instead. Then again, perhaps in this case I find myself clutching at straws.
Simon Davies faces an anxious wait to learn whether he’ll be fit enough to face his old Everton team-mates and Mikele Leigertwood will attempt to do the unthinkable by scoring in three consecutive games when QPR entertain Reading in the first relegation ‘six-pointer’ of the season..
It would appear that in this modern era, we’re seeing fewer examples of players who devote their lives to one club. The previously unusual tag of ‘the journeyman’ has become increasingly common as players instigate moves in search of money, silverware or merely more minutes on the pitch.
Last weekend Gareth Bale highlighted the almost selfish desire to perform well in games that possess a personal significance and when you consider modern transfers are rarely conducted amicably, the euphoria surrounding each new ‘homecoming’ looks set to grow for years to come.
Fernando Torres was last year, this time round we have Robin van Persie, dare I suggest Theo Walcott could be lining up against Arsenal next season?
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