PL25 – The transfers that defied the ‘never go back’ adage

‘Never go back’ is one of football’s oldest adages, warning players against returning to their former stomping grounds. The theory being quite simply that the idea of the prodigal son coming home is rarely as successful in reality and eventually, everybody ends up a little disappointed. It’s best to let old reputations, whether positive or negative, live on rather than trying to improve them and inadvertently making them worse.

Yet, there are always exceptions to the rule and from the last 25 years of the Premier League, a number of successful re-signings celebrate their anniversaries this week. FootballFanCast takes a look at those and a few others in a bid to dispel the myth that you should never, ever go back…

Martin Keown

Martin Keown made his first appearances for Arsenal at the end of 1985, but it wasn’t until nearly a decade later that he’d become an iconic member of their famously water-tight, offside-trap-mastering back four. Indeed, the former England international left Highbury in 1986 after George Graham cast doubts over his involvement in the first-team for the coming season, spending three years at Aston Villa before making nearly 100 top-flight outings for Everton. After consistently impressing for both clubs, Arsenal re-signed Keown in 1993 and during that second spell he’d go onto win three Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a Cup Winners’ Cup – a drastic improvement on the trophy-less first.

Teddy Sheringham

Teddy Sheringham’s a Tottenham legend, not least because he returned to the club where he made his name following an affluent four seasons at Manchester United, which saw him famously score in the 1999 Champions League final. Far more than an ageing hero looking to see out his twilight years in comfortable, familiar surroundings, however, Sheringham’s second stint at White Hart Lane saw him bag 22 goals in 70 Premier League appearances – reaching double figures in consecutive seasons. In fact, his Premier League strike-rate was just 0.15 goals per game less than his first Tottenham spell. Unfortunately, neither of Sheringham’s stints in north London brought silverware to the Lane.

Steven Pienaar

Steven Pienaar actually signed for Everton four times in the space of nine years, on two occasions arriving on loan before making his transfer permanent. The gap between the two stints was a failed move to Tottenham Hotspur in 2011, which lasted just six months and ten Premier League appearances amid a bout of recurring injury problems. The South African’s first spell with the Toffees is largely considered the more successful of the two, having won the club’s Player of the Season award in 2009/10 compared to managing just 17 outings during his final two seasons at Goodison. But the second stint actually saw Pienaar score as many goals – twelve – in 37 less games and help Everton achieve a club-record 72 points in the Premier League during 2013/14.

James Collins

Ginger Pele, as he’s ironically known, never made more than 18 Premier League appearances in a single season during his first spell at West Ham, struggling to command a place in the first team after joining the club from second-tier Cardiff City. But three seasons with Aston Villa, during which time the Birmingham outfit finished sixth, reached an FA Cup semi-final and a League Cup final, proved Collins could compete at top flight level and when matters at Villa Park began to spiral out of control in 2012, it was the Hammers who came back in for the Welshman. Since then, Collins has established himself as a true cult hero in east London, famed for his leadership qualities, lack of pace and simplistic style of defending. He’s gone on to make 134 appearances across all competitions – 69 more than during his first spell – helping re-establish the Irons in the top flight and record their second-highest final standing of the Premier League era, seventh place, in 2015/16.

Didier Drogba

Didier Drogba’s return to Chelsea consisted of just 40 games and seven goals – only four of which came in the Premier League. And yet, it’s hard to imagine the Blues winning their third title under Jose Mourinho without the then-37-year-old as part of the dressing room, barking orders at his less experienced team-mates and coming on from the bench to see out games in the closing stages. He even started in the absence of the injured Diego Costa during the dying embers of the campaign and rather fittingly made the tackle that beckoned the final whistle against Crystal Palace which saw Chelsea officially anointed champions. Rather tellingly, without Drogba’s (and Petr Cech’s) leadership the following season, the Blues plummeted to 10th place.

Graeme Le Saux

Graeme Le Saux began his career at Chelsea, but it was a move to Blackburn Rovers that saw the England international record his greatest achievement, as part of their 1994-95 title winning squad. Once the Ewood Park bubble had burst, however, Le Saux returned to his old stomping ground in a £5million deal – becoming the most expensive defender in English football at the time. It proved to be money well spent too; the former England international’s second stint at Stamford Bridge produced a League Cup, an FA Cup, a Cup Winners’ Cup and a European Super Cup, although the Premier League title evaded him. Le Saux would go on to make 140 league appearances, 50 more than during his first spell, before eventually leaving for Southampton as a part-exchange involving Wayne Bridge.