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English Premier League

Dreams of Youth: the allure of retirement comebacks



The toughest thing, they say, is knowing when to walk away. Knowing when the body has had enough, when the mind has lost its sharpness, and the hunger in the belly has started to fade. When a single task has consumed your every effort since you were child, and that single defining dream has driven your to push yourself every day, waking up without it can require a significant readjustment.

Footballers, for the most part, tend to stay retired. A few find their way back, but not with the frequency of prize fighters or Ronnie O’Sullivan, who seem to retire everytime they aren’t actively doing the thing they are paid for.

There is something intoxicating about proving you’ve still got it, lapping up the applause just one more time. Yes, I went away, but look, I’m still all I was.

Eric Cantona famously bid the football world adieu whilst still at the peak of his powers – but no comeback was necessary for a man who had already had his redemptive moment when returning from his ban following the kung fu kick on a fan against Crystal Palace in 1995. After nine months on the sidelines, he was talismanic in Manchester United’s league and cup double in the 1995/96 season.

Cantona, despite the strutting arrogance of his playing style, resisted the urge to return, content with the occasional game of beach football and pursuing an acting career.

Rivaldo, however, is not a man whose ego has waned. The 2002 World Cup winner, and holder of the award for Most Ridiculous Dive of All Time, is now owner and president of Brazilian Serie B side Mogi Mirim. At the beginning of the month, he became captain as well, pulling on his boots at the age of 43 to help drag his side from the bottom of the table.

Rivaldo, embarking on his return, claimed he would have won Ballon d’Or considerably more frequently than the once he managed, were he at his peak in the modern era.

That is perhaps a moot point, but he is undoubtedly having an impact – scoring a penalty and having a hand in two other goals as his side beat Macae 3-1. Perhaps the most notable thing about that particular game was one of his fellow goalscorers was his son, 20 year old Rivaldinho.

Sir Alex Ferguson tempted Paul Scholes out of retirement to ease his team’s midfield woes.

It’s not always ego that draws a player out of retirement, sometimes it’s begging and pleading.

With Manchester United desperately short of midfield options, Sir Alex Ferguson coaxed Paul Scholes into a return just five months after his testimonial. Scholes, ever aware of his place in his surroundings, had deemed the time right to call it a day, that hunger fading and at 36 the engine wasn’t there any more either – a man so often late into the tackle anyway, he probably reasoned he couldn’t afford to be any later to them…

But Sir Alex is a persuasive man, and Scholes played a further eighteen months. Although not coming out of retirement Laurent Blanc, Michael Owen and Henrik Larsson are three others who joined United in their twlight years, in all three cases several seasons after the time they would’ve been their best fit for United.

So, why risk your reputation and your legacy by coming out of retirement or by making that late career move?

It’s often a decision ruled by heart not head – only in the case of a money spinning tour in the backwaters of club football (Exhibit A, Xavi Hernandez) might head be leading. Where heart wins out, players are following the dreams they had as children, hitting a ball against a wall and pretending it was Old Trafford. Either you want one last stab at proving you belong there, or you had it, gave it up and miss it too much to stay away.

The second is dangerous. Scholes just about carried it off with his legacy intact, he was there to smooth a transition, although United failed to bring through the youngsters that were playing around him and have been forced to buy big. For Drogba and Henry, their return to the Premier League was less of a fairytale, more a tribute act – a leisurely wave to the crowd in Henry’s case especially.

Should we be warning against the return? Probably not. Heart rules head a lot in football, and to rely too heavily on rationality would be to deny it much of its charm.

But when a comeback does happen…we should probably all make a collective promise to remember them as they were, not as they are.

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Manchester United

Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line

The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.

Rob Meech



Luke Shaw
Photo: Getty Images

The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.

Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”

The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.

Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.

From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.

Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.

Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.

This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.

But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.

In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.

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English Premier League

Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week

The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.



Photo: Getty Images

With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.

Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.

In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.

Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.

The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.

Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.

This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.

If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.

Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.

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English Premier League

Despite improvement, Everton should not rekindle Thomas Vermaelen interest

The Belgian defender has been in better form for Barcelona this season.



Rumours have emerged today suggesting Everton could be back in for Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.

Catalan newspaper Sport has reported that the 32-year-old could be offered a new deal by Barcelona, with a team from the Premier League interested in signing him.

Sport Witness has openly hypothesised that Everton could be that team. Whilst there is no confirmation or substantiated report that is the case, the boot certainly fits.

Last summer Everton tried to sign Vermaelen.

As reported by the Liverpool Echo, at the time Barcelona vetoed a loan move to Everton as they felt the defender could be a useful asset.

The Belgian certainly has. After struggling with injuries and form throughout most of his Barcelona tenure the former Arsenal man has enjoyed a good season.

The 32-year-old has been a genuine asset to the Catalans, despite still being used sparingly, and such form has even seen him win back a place in Roberto Martinez’s national selection for Belgium.

If it is Everton interested in Vermaelen it is easy to see why. Centre-back has been a major problem for the club this season.

However, Vermaelen, or a player of his ilk, is not the answer to the Toffees’ woes.

(Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)

The Belgian is obviously a talented player with plenty of experience, but Everton need to freshen up their back-line.

Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s age has shown in recent months.

The pair have been, at the best, inconsistent for the past 18 months and Everton need fresh young talent in the heart of defence if they are to succeed.

Vermaelen is not only 32 but also immensely injury prone. Everton need reliable figures to plug their leaky defences and the Belgian can simply not be relied upon.

Whilst on paper it seems a good deal, and one Everton could certainly turn to their benefit.

The truth is supporters of the Goodison Park outfit will hope they are not the club reportedly keen on bringing Vermaelen back to the Premier League.

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