Robben, Marquez, Larsson and the stars who went back to retire at their first club

By Sports Desk June 28, 2020

Arjen Robben's retirement lasted just a single season, as the Netherlands and Bayern Munich great announced on Saturday he is to return to boyhood club Groningen for the 2020-21 campaign.

Robben, 36, brought an illustrious playing career to an end last July shortly after his 10-year spell with Bayern came to an end.

Although at the time he was linked with a potential return to the team that gave him his professional debut, Robben - who suffered with numerous injury problems throughout his career - opted to retire.

But now he looks set to return, not only to top-tier football, but at the place where it all began.

In honour of Robben's return to his first club, we identified some other high-profile players who went to finish their careers back home.

Juan Roman Riquelme - Argentinos Juniors

Perhaps more synonymous with Boca Juniors, where he made his professional debut and also spent most of his final years, Riquelme also had a strong affinity with Argentinos Juniors. He came through the club's academy in the early-to-mid 1990s, before then finishing his immense career at Estadio Diego Maradona in 2014, having also played for Barcelona, Villarreal and Argentina. Although the iconic attacking midfielder appeared close to joining Paraguay's Cerro Porteno the following year, the move never materialised.

Dirk Kuyt - Quick Boys

Kuyt briefly came out of retirement two years ago to help Quick Boys, with whom he spent 13 years as a youth. Playing in the Derde Divisie Saturday league, Kuyt was already working as assistant at the time, but made himself available for selection during a striker shortage and he made three appearances. The former Netherlands and Liverpool forward had retired the year before following a second spell with Feyenoord, where he had made his initial breakthrough in the mid-2000s, his form at the time earning a move to Anfield.

Rafael Marquez - Atlas

One of Mexico's greatest players, Marquez's longevity at such a high level was nothing short of incredible, as he accumulated 147 international caps. After breaking into the Atlas team as a teenager having come through their academy, the elegant centre-back enjoyed a sparkling career in Europe, winning 14 titles across spells with Monaco and Barcelona. Time with New York Red Bulls, Leon and Hellas Verona followed, before a final two-year stint back at the Jalisco ended in 2018. Although plagued by off-field allegations towards the end of his career, Marquez went on to become the club's sporting president, before standing down last year to focus on other areas of the sport.

Juan Pablo Angel - Atletico Nacional

Angel perhaps never quite lived up to the expectations he set during his early days as part of River Plate's so-called 'Fantastic Four' with Javier Saviola, Ariel Ortega and Pablo Aimar, having joined from Colombia's Nacional. Nevertheless, he became a fan favourite at Aston Villa in the Premier League, before spending six years in MLS with New York Red Bulls, Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA. In 2013 he returned to Nacional for two seasons, having left them in 1997. He called it quits in late 2014, just a few days after losing to his former club River in the final of the Copa Sudamericana. "I am ending my career with a final between the two clubs I love the most," he said.

Henrik Larsson - Hogaborgs

While the Swedish club most may associate with Larsson is Helsingborgs, he actually made the breakthrough at a smaller side – Hogaborgs. It was here where he trained from the age of six, before eventually becoming a regular in the senior side and earning a move to Helsingborgs. A trophy-laden career followed, taking him to Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United. Although he retired in 2009, he returned to the pitch for Raa in the Swedish third tier three years later, before then finding himself back in the team at Hogaborgs in 2013, helping out due to an injury crisis despite him only previously being registered to a casual team for 'seniors'. This gave him the chance to play alongside his son, Jordan.

Carlos Tevez - Boca Juniors

The Tevez-Boca love affair has dominated most of the striker's successful and complex career. After coming through their youth ranks, the feisty forward was seen as the heir to Maradona. A brief stint in Brazil with Corinthians followed, but Europe had long since beckoned, even if West Ham was by no means the expected destination. He went on to play for Manchester United and Manchester City, increasing tension between the clubs, before then going to Juventus, but throughout this time Tevez seemed to long for a return to Boca. He went back to La Bombonera in 2015, his homecoming interrupted by a brief spell with Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 in the Chinese Super League, though even Tevez acknowledged he saw his time in China as a "holiday". "He filled Santa's sack with dollars and now he has returned to Boca" was Maradona's assessment upon 'El Apache's' return from the CSL.

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  • Torres was upset with the world – Guardiola explains Spain star's turnaround Torres was upset with the world – Guardiola explains Spain star's turnaround

    Ferran Torres is reaping the benefits of relocating a positive outlook at Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola stating the Spain forward was "upset with the world, with many situations".

    Torres netted a fine hat-trick, which began with a spectacular improvised volley, when the Premier League champions won 4-3 at Newcastle United last Friday.

    Those goals moved Torres onto 19 for club and country this season, although his form tailed off considerably during the middle of the campaign – a situation that was compromised by a bout of coronavirus.

    Speaking ahead of Tuesday's match at Brighton and Hove Albion, Guardiola reiterated the value he places upon players remaining upbeat when form and selection are not going their way, suggesting Torres has fallen short in this regard at times since joining from Valencia for £21.2million last August.

    "The players, like teams, are not a stable situation. There is up and down with all players," Guardiola said.

    "Ferran was in an incredible mood when he arrived, [then] in one period sad, upset with the world, with many situations and that's why he didn't play good. When he changed his mind and he was open and he started to smile again, always he played good.

    "And the football depends on the mood, the confidence of the players. We try to help them but it depends on them. You can complain or you can move forward all the time. And the guys who move forward and they are positive, always football rewards you.

    "When you start to complain all the time, then the train comes over you and other guys will take your position.

    "Football doesn’t wait. If you're not in the right moment, there will be another guy who will take your position. When you are positive, the guys are always playing good."

    Torres has scored 13 times for City in all competitions this season, putting him level with Gabriel Jesus. Only Ilkay Gundogan (16), Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling (all 14) have scored more.

    The 21-year-old's minutes-per-goal rate of 159.85 is comfortably the best in Guardiola's squad, with no other player who has scored five or more times below 200 minutes.

    Nevertheless, his season can be split into three fairly clear sections.

    From the start of the campaign up to and including a goalscoring contribution to a home win over Newcastle on Boxing Day, Torres scored seven times for his club and also hit a hat-trick in Spain's 6-0 Nations League thrashing of Germany.

    For City, he averaged 0.56 goals per 90 minutes and boasted a shot conversion rate of 20 per cent, out-performing an expected goals (xG) figure of 5.75 and vindicating Guardiola's decision to frequently deploy a natural winger at the centre of his attack.

    "We used him in that position because for quite a long period of the season Gabriel and Sergio [Aguero] were injured," he said.

    "We have players that can play in different positions and Ferran is one of them."

    Then, COVID-19 struck and Torres became a more marginal figure, featuring 10 times between the turn of the year and the March international break and netting a solitary goal against League Two Cheltenham in the FA Cup.

    That paltry return came from 15 shots over this period, amounting to a conversion rate of 6.67 per cent and an xG under-performance (2.24).

    It means the stint of low mood that Guardiola mentioned is not too hard to pick out, although back-to-back goals in Spain's World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Kosovo appear to sparkTorres once more.

    In six appearances and five starts for City since, he has five goals at a rate of one every 83.2 minutes, far exceeding his 1.77 xG.

    Torres' conversion rate during this most recent spell is up at 41.67 per cent and the poaching instincts that were to the fore in his second and third goals against Newcastle are borne out in the fact he has scored three of his past four "big chances", according to Opta.

    His opener does not fall into that category, but such an ingenious move coming off is perhaps indicative of a player back in form and giving his manager a useful problem ahead of this month's Champions League final.

    "The goal was so nice, difficult execution. An absolutely talented action," Guardiola added.

    "In training sessions he always has the ability in front of goal. He is a good finisher. He has pace, quality and good decision-making."

    As City continue to be linked with mega-money moves for a new striker and Aguero prepares to leave the Etihad Stadium after a record-breaking decade, maybe they have a very useful solution in-house.

  • Top five European leagues permutations: Title races, Champions League spots and relegation battles Top five European leagues permutations: Title races, Champions League spots and relegation battles

    Europe's top five leagues all conclude this week and there are still plenty of matters to be resolved – not least who will be crowned champions in Spain and France.

    Every division has something riding on the final days of the season, whether it be top spot, European qualification, or relegation.

    Ahead of what is set to be a dramatic conclusion to the Premier League, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga campaigns, we look at the state of play in each league.

     

    PREMIER LEAGUE

    Manchester City wrapped up the Premier League title with three games to spare, making them the first team in the competition's history to win the title despite being as low as eighth on Christmas Day.

    All three relegation places were also decided with three games remaining – a Premier League record – with Fulham joining Sheffield United and West Brom in dropping down a division.

    That leaves just the European spots to fight for, and it is shaping up to be an entertaining end to the English top-flight season in that regard. Manchester United are guaranteed a top-four finish, but five other teams – Leicester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham – are in the mix for the two other Champions League berths with two rounds of games to go.

    There is also the small matter of the Europa League places for the teams finishing in fifth and sixth, as well as a spot in the inaugural Europa Conference League, which goes to the team in seventh, meaning everyone from 10th-placed Leeds United to Leicester in third have something to play for. That includes Arsenal, who have not missed out on European football of some sort in 25 years.

    LALIGA 

    The Spanish title race appeared to take a dramatic twist on Sunday as Real Madrid leapfrogged Atletico Madrid at the summit for around 20 minutes. However, Atleti scored two late goals to beat Osasuna, meaning they are two points ahead of their city rivals heading into the final round of games.

    Atleti, who have led the way at the top for 29 matchdays, now need to match Madrid's result against Villarreal when they travel to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid on the final day of the season. It is worth noting that Los Blancos have the superior head-to-head record, so a draw would not be enough for Atleti if Madrid win.

    Barcelona are officially out of the title race, meanwhile, but they are assured of a top-four finish along with Sevilla. Real Sociedad and Real Betis occupy the Europa League spots, while Villarreal are in a Europa Conference League berth, though just one point separates the three teams so that could all yet change.

    To complicate matters, Villarreal could still qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League final against Manchester United.

    At the bottom end of the division, Eibar are already relegated and they will be joined by two of Valladolid, Elche or Huesca. Valladolid must beat Atletico in their final game to have a chance of staying up, while the onus is on Elche to better Huesca's result as they are level on points but have an inferior head-to-head record.

    LIGUE 1

    The Ligue 1 title battle is also going right down to the wire in a three-way dogfight. After a thrilling race that has lasted the course of the season, underdogs Lille lead heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain by one point with one matchday left.

    Monaco have won seven of their previous eight games and are three points off leaders Lille, though they require both Les Dogues and PSG to slip up on the final day, as well as beating Lens. Should it come down to goal difference, PSG hold a big lead over their two title rivals.

    Incredibly, PSG are still not yet technically assured of a Champions League place as Lyon in fourth are only three points worse off, although it would take a defeat for the reigning champions and victory for Lyon, plus a goal swing of 16, for them to miss out.

    Monaco's opponents Lens, incidentally, also have plenty to play for at the weekend as they are sixth – enough for Europa Conference League qualification – but can still be caught by Rennes in seventh, while they could yet overtake Marseille in fifth if results go their way.

    At the opposite end of the table, there may only be one spot left to be settled in the bottom three – Dijon and Nimes are both already down – but six teams are still very much in danger of the drop. Nantes occupy the relegation play-off spot, with Lorient, Brest and Strasbourg just a point better off, and Bordeaux and Reims only two points clear.

    SERIE A

    With Inter being crowned Scudetto winners for the first time in 11 years at the start of the month, the biggest storyline in Serie A regards Juventus' top-four fate. The dethroned champions, who had finished top nine years running before this season, are currently down in fifth.

    Juve are one point behind Napoli and Milan in the two spots directly above them, while Atalanta are three points better off in second and have the better head-to-head record against the Bianconeri.

    Andrea Pirlo's side are therefore in need of favours on the final day in what is poised to be a nail-biting finale in terms of those Champions League places. Lazio will finish sixth, so they are assured of Europa League football next term, while Roma hold a two-point advantage over Sassuolo in the Europa Conference League position.

    Parma and Crotone are both down already and one of Benevento or Torino will join them, the latter currently three points outside of the relegation zone and with a game in hand to play on Benevento.

    BUNDESLIGA

    RB Leipzig provided Bayern Munich with some stern competition for a while, but the Bavarian giants' quality eventually told and they are Bundesliga champions for a ninth year running.

    It's not only the title race that's done and dusted in Germany, in fact, as RB Leipzig are certain of second place, and both Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg will join them in the Champions League next season.

    Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, will finish in fifth and sixth respectively regardless of events later this week.

    However, Union Berlin have work to do if they are to finish seventh for a place in the Europa Conference League play-offs as Borussia Monchengladbach are a point further back, while Stuttgart and Freiburg are two behind with a game to go.

    Seven-time German champions Schalke will be competing in the second tier of German football next season, but Cologne and Werder Bremen are hanging on in there, sitting two and one point behind Arminia Bielefeld respectively in 15th place.

  • Solskjaer still unsure of Mata's future at Man United Solskjaer still unsure of Mata's future at Man United

    Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is unsure whether Juan Mata will remain at Old Trafford beyond this season.

    The Spanish midfielder has spent the last seven-and-a-half years at Old Trafford, racking up 271 appearances during that time.

    However, he has struggled for minutes this season – featuring just 16 times in all competitions – and is due to become a free agent next month.

    United have the option to trigger a 12-month extension in Mata's contract, but Solskjaer insists the player himself will have the final say over his future.

    "I've kept the dialogue with Juan and we're due to speak again very soon," he said at a news conference on Monday previewing his side's home match with Fulham. 

    "Of course, he's not played as much as he'd like and that's a decision that we'll make with him. He's in charge of his own future and he's been such a good servant for the club. 

    "But of course, it's hard, as I've said so many times, to leave good players out, good people out of the team. 

    "It's about what does he want as his next step in his career? Is it still play out his career here, or is it going somewhere else? We haven't made a final decision yet."

    Mata's appearance in a much-changed United's 2-1 loss to Leicester City last week was just his fifth start of the season in the Premier League, not helped by injuries and family matters.

    Prior to that rare outing against the Foxes, Mata had played just two minutes of top-flight football for United in 2021, coming on as a late substitute in February's 3-1 win against Newcastle United.

    He has failed to score in the league since April 2019 but does have two assists in 2020-21, which equates to 0.42 per 90 minutes and is the best record of any United player to have played more than once this term.

    Bruno Fernandes is next on the list with 0.33 assists per 90 minutes, albeit over a far greater period of 36 games compared to Mata's eight.

    The 33-year-old also ranks highly for chances created, the Spaniard's 1.69 per 90 minutes behind only Luke Shaw (2.53) and Fernandes (2.81).

    Serie A side Lazio are reportedly the favourites to sign the former Valencia and Chelsea man should he depart Old Trafford in the coming weeks. 

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