With the news that Didier Drogba has been “in discussions” about a possible return to Stamford Bridge to form part of Guus Hiddink’s backroom staff, it continues the trend, in recent years, of club legends and icons being brought back by manager’s in an attempt to bolster flailing squads and boost dressing room morale.
But just how effective is this? Why do manager’s feel the need to look back in order to move forward? A quick look at some recent examples will provide us with some evidence of the effectiveness of such a move.
Football as a whole has a love affair with nostalgia. Past achievements, “glory years” and club icons are all looked back on with fondness, sometimes so much so that it becomes a weight round the neck of the current regime, even possibly working negatively to the detriment of the team – think Fergie at Man United, the Liverpool side of the 70’s and 80’s or even the “Boys of ’66” in International football.
[ffc-gal cat=”chelsea” no=”5″]
Whilst clubs and fans have every right to remember past times and players fondly, manager’s are there to deal with the ‘here and now’, to move the club forward and create their own history.
In the past few years we have seen high profile players, most notably Paul Scholes at Man United and Thierry Henry at Arsenal, return for spells with their former clubs.
Both of these could be argued were due to injury-hit squads needing cover – but why not use the vast pool of youth talent that, undoubtedly, both clubs had, or find a young hungry player elsewhere in the transfer market.
Indeed, Scholes actually came out of ‘retirement’ to return to United in early 2012, whilst Henry was loaned from his parent club, MLS side New York Red Bulls, for a two month period at almost the same time.
It could be argued that neither player had a particularly huge impact on their return, although Scholes did play a part in United’s title-winning campaign in 2012-13 after extending his stay for a further season. Was it perhaps more to do with their personality, their presence in the dressing room around the younger players rather than their actions on the pitch?
Indeed, Drogba himself was brought back to Chelsea by Mourinho in 2014. Much like Scholes and Henry, his goals return was relatively insignificant but he was part of a title-winning side.
This time Drogba’s possible return would be purely in a coaching capacity. A natural leader and motivator, the Ivorian would be brought in to help galvanise a squad reeling from a disastrous start to the season and possibly to help out on the training pitch with technical and psychological advice. This is likely the thinking that Ferguson and Wenger had when they sought to recall Scholes and Henry back in 2012.
It remains to be seen what impact Drogba will have this time if he even does return, talks with his parent club Montreal Impact still ongoing.
What is clear is that manager’s are not afraid to recall past players when their current squads are struggling. Nostalgia will always have a place in football – just ask any Liverpool “five times” fan, but when it comes to players returning to their former employers the topic is very much up for debate.
Should managers not be looking to the future, to find new stars rather than returning to old ground with past legends? What does seem clear, however, is that it has much more to do with strong personalities and “presence” than it does with an attempt to recreate their past ability and former glory.