For all of football’s more contrived narrative and drama, the idea of a star player, a fan favourite, a childhood hero returning to their former club for one last dance is as fairytale as they come in the sport.
And one of those instances is set to happen at 3pm in Manchester on Saturday afternoon.
After 12 years away, Cristiano Ronaldo has returned to Old Trafford and is preparing to make his bow at the Theatre of Dreams when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side welcome Newcastle in a Premier League clash.
Set to once again don the club’s iconic No.7 shirt, the five-time Ballon d’Or’s highly anticipated return is already being built as one of English football’s most captivating stories (especially with it not being televised live in the UK).
Ronaldo isn’t the first, though, with many returning icons paving the away for a red carpet-laid return.
Manchester United via Getty Imag)
Here, Mirror Football looks at how his former Premier League colleagues fared on their second debuts.
As second debuts come, this one’s hard to top.
Returning to Arsenal January 2012 on loan from Major League Soccer side New York Red Bulls, Henry entered an FA Cup tie at home to Leeds as a second-half substitute.
The Gunners’ all-time leading goalscorer gave Arsene Wenger exactly what he asked for: an impact.
With the score of the third-round tie at 0-0, Alex Song picked out a looming Henry in the left channel and the Frenchman coolly tucked away his curling effort into the Peacocks’ bottom right-hand, sending the Emirates into pandemonium and Arsenal through.
Chelsea ‘s talisman for nearly a decade, Drogba’s place as a Blues legend was well-assured prior to his 2014 return.
Signed by Jose Mourinho, also in his second spell at Stamford Bridge, following two years with Turkish giants Galatasaray, the Ivorian striker was able to pick up his 11th and 12th trophies with the club by returning for a swan song season.
Although it would take until October of that season to notch his first goal back in blue, he made his full second debut in a 1-1 draw with German side Schalke in the Champions League to a rousing Stamford Bridge reception, having featured for six minutes a few weeks earlier in their 3-1 win at Burnley.
Assisting Mourinho’s men to a League Cup and Premier League later that term, his return was well and truly a successful one in the end.
Staying at Stamford Bridge and on to David Luiz, who was sold by Mourinho for £50 million the same year Drogba returned.
His transfer fee was a world record for defender, only for Antonio Conte to sanction a transfer to bring the Brazilian back for £16m less two years later.
The centre-back’s return ended in disappointment, bursting his nose in a 2–1 defeat at home to Liverpool.
Before Conte crafted his title-winning 3-5-2 formation, the absence of legend John Terry – which meant Luiz was called in – was regarded as a primary reason for Chelsea’s loss as they struggled to handle Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Still, the Premier League trophy at the end of that season more than made up for a shaky start.
Although without the previous Manchester United history that Ronaldo endows, Pogba’s comeback match showed why the Red Devils were so desperate to bring the academy product back to Old Trafford for a world-record £89 million.
Put simply, the Frenchman ran the show as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice to give United all three points in their first home game of the 2016-17 season.
It remains one of Pogba’s more fondly-remembered showings, struggling to consistently take a stronghold of games over five frustrating years filled with glimpses or marvellous talent and agent talk.
The story, though, is not over yet.
Action Images via Reuters)
Having left Everton to join Sir Alex Ferguson at the Theatre of Dreams as a teenager in 2004, it would be 13 years until Rooney left United, returning to boyhood club Everton.
The current Derby County boss was handed the captain’s armband by manager Ronald Koeman, scoring his 199th Premier League goal to help the Toffees beat Stoke City on the opening day in 2017, heading in a Dominic Calvert-Lewin cross.
Netting eight days later against former cross-city rivals Manchester City and scoring a number of memorable goals back at Goodison Park, Rooney’s homecoming was certainly memorable before signing for DC United.
2020 was a strange one, wasn’t it?
It did, however, give us what felt like an inevitable transfer: Bale going back to Tottenham Hotspur.
The Welsh winger had become an outcast at Real Madrid but despite now fans inside stadiums, was welcomed back with open arms by Spurs fans.
Unfortunately for the 33-year-old, his second coming came in one of the 20-21 campaign’s craziest games.
Tottenham let a three-goal lead slip at home to West Ham, who completed their remarkable comeback in 94th minute through a sensational Manuel Lanzini strike,
At 3-1, Bale had the opportunity to finish the game off and would rue his miss.
Now back in Madrid following a tumultuous term, it’s fair to say things didn’t work out as planned, starting with that miss.
Offside via Getty Images)
Finally, a second debut from just a few weeks ago.
Chelsea stumped up £97.5 million to bring Lukaku back to the club in August and he wasted no time by netting a goal in the Blues’ 2-0 win at Arsenal.
Using his power to outmuscle Pablo Mari, the Belgian gave fans a peak of what’s to come with his dominant display as he led the line for Thomas Tuchel with serious prowess.
Let go in 2014, the Blues’ decision to swallow their pride could well pay off.
Having led a team to a title in the form of Inter Milan’s Serie A triumph, his critics are becoming less and less noisy as he enjoys his peak years.
Almost guaranteeing goals, Lukaku’s return could signal a shift in Premier League power – although that’s something you might have to ask Ronaldo about.