They say you can never go home again, but that’s not entirely true. Well, at least not in the sports world. On Thursday, it was announced that Cristiano Ronaldo would be returning to Manchester United — the club where he developed into a bonafide superstar — 12 years after leaving Old Trafford to join Real Madrid.
While Ronaldo is the latest, the footballer is far from the first icon to return to their roots (LeBron James, Randy Moss, Allen Iverson and Ichiro Suzuki, to name a few).
Was the second time playing for the franchise for which they emerged as an icon as fruitful as the first? As with anything else, it’s a mixed bag, but some of these stars went home again and thrived.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United
Why he left: After six years with Man U, in which Ronaldo scored 118 goals in 292 games and developed from an inexperienced young winger to the best footballer on the planet, he joined Real Madrid for a world-record transfer fee at the time, of £80 million (€94 million).
While he was away… So. Much. Success. During his third season in Spain, Ronaldo helped Real Madrid win their first LaLiga title in four years, scoring 46 goals in league play. In the 2013-14 season, Ronaldo scored a record 17 UEFA Champions League goals en route to La Décima. He continued his trend of dominance with a personal best of 61 goals in all competitions during the 2014-15 season. At the start of the 2015-16 campaign, his seventh season at Real Madrid, Ronaldo became the club’s all-time top scorer, first in the league and then in all competitions. As if his four Champions League crowns, three Club World Cups and UEFA Super Cups apiece, two LaLiga titles, a pair of Copas del Rey and two Spanish Super Cups weren’t enough, he also racked up four Ballon d’Or trophies. Did we mention this was all before Ronaldo departed for Juventus in 2018? In his three seasons in Turin, he earned two league titles, one Coppa Italia, one Italian Super Cup, two Serie A player of the year awards and a top scorer prize.
When he returned…: On August 27, 2021 — after nearly going to Manchester City — 36-year-old Ronaldo agreed to return to Old Trafford in a two-year, €15 million deal with a potential further €8m in add-ons.
How it went: TBD.
Thierry Henry, Arsenal
Why he left: Henry, Arsenal’s all-time leading goal scorer, left in 2007 after eight years in North London when he was transferred to Barcelona. His last season with the Gunners was marred by injuries.
While he was away…: In his first season with Barcelona, he led the team in goals scored. The next season, Henry helped lead Barca to a Champions League title. From 2010-2014, he was with the New York Red Bulls in MLS.
When he returned…: He returned to Arsenal on a two-month loan in 2012, to help fill a hole for the Gunners.
Homecoming quote: “I am not coming here to be a hero or prove anything. I am just coming here to help. People have to understand that. .. “It is unreal to be honest. But when it comes to Arsenal, my heart will always do the talking. I always said I was never going to come back and play in Europe again but when the team you love and support asks you back, it’s kind of hard to say ‘no.'” — Henry
How it went: Henry returned for a brief two-month stint, which was highlighted by his last game on loan, when he scored the game-winning goal. He then returned to the Red Bulls and retired in 2014.
Kaká, AC Milan
Why he left: Kaká left Sao Paulo, a club in his native Brazil, for AC Milan on an €8.5 million transfer in 2003 and quickly established himself as one of the greats of European football, scoring 70 goals in six seasons. He scored 10 goals in UEFA Champions League play in 2006-07, leading Milan to its last Champions League title. He left for Real Madrid in 2009 on an €67 million transfer, the second-most expensive at that time.
While he was away…: Kaká shrugged off nagging injuries to record 29 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid, the most ever for a Brazilian-born player in La Liga. Real Madrid won the Copa del Rey in 2010-11 and La Liga in 2011-12.
When he returned…: Kaká returned to AC Milan on a free transfer in 2013, signing a €4 million contract. He was immediately named vice captain.
Homecoming quote: “I had been working on this deal for 48 months. Basically I have dreamt of bringing Ricky back from the moment he left!” — AC Milan vice president Adriano Galliani
How it went: Kaká injured his left abductor muscle in his first competitive game, delaying the comeback. He had moments during the 2013-14 season, scoring seven goals for AC Milan, but signed with Orlando City of the MLS after the season. He played his final three seasons for Orlando City and Sao Paulo.
Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers
Why he left: After winning Rookie of the Year, an MVP, four scoring titles and leading the Sixers to a Finals berth in 2001, Iverson was traded to the Nuggets in December 2006 for a package that included Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two 2007 first-round draft picks. A slow start to the season led to frustrations for Iverson, and he reportedly demanded a trade. The Sixers benched the disgruntled Iverson before shipping him to Denver.
While he was away…: Iverson averaged over 26 points per game in his first two seasons with the Nuggets, but then his production took a serious dive, failing to average over 20 points per game again. The Nuggets traded him to the Pistons early in the 2008-09 season and after a solid start, Iverson’s numbers dipped after losing playing time to a younger Rodney Stuckey. Iverson signed with Memphis the following season, but his contract was terminated after playing in just three games, with the then-34-year-old upset about not starting.
When he returned…: Three weeks after his Memphis release, Iverson returned to Philadelphia on a one-year, league-minimum contract. The signing of Iverson was considered a popular one by Sixers fans, who gave the 11-time all-star a raucous ovation in his first game back on Dec. 7, 2009.
Homecoming quote: “The relationships that I have with these [Philly] fans, are like no other, I think, in sports. A love for them and they love me, and it’s evident.”
How it went: Iverson’s return to Philly was short-lived. On Feb. 22, 2010, he left the 76ers indefinitely, citing the need to attend to his 4-year-old daughter’s health issues. He would miss the remainder of the season and didn’t play another game in the NBA. He averaged 13.9 points in 25 games with the Sixers that season and finished his career averaging 26.7 points per game.
LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Why he left: James had spent seven seasons with Cleveland, reaching the Finals once, when the Cavs were swept by the Spurs. On July 8, 2010, ESPN aired “The Decision,” and James announced he was “going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat,” saying it would give him the best chance to win for multiple years and win championships.
While he was away…: James joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and made four straight Finals trips, winning back-to-back NBA titles in 2012 and 2013.
When he returned…: In July 2014, James made it known he was returning to the Cavs. After winning two titles in Miami, James made it his mission to bring a championship to Cleveland.
Homecoming quote: “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
How it went: Pretty well. James took Cleveland to the Finals all four years in his second stint and led the Cavs to their first NBA championship in 2016.
Jason Kidd, Dallas Mavericks
Why he left: Kidd wasn’t a happy sport two-and-a-half seasons into his career with the Mavs, so Dallas shipped the former co-Rookie of the Year to Phoenix.
While he was away…: Five years after being sent to Phoenix, Kidd was sent to New Jersey for Stephon Marbury in a swap of star point guards. Kidd led the Nets to back-to-back Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003 and changed the culture in New Jersey to a winning one.
When he returned…: In 2008, the Nets sent Kidd back to Dallas in a February trade, where he would team up with Dirk Nowitzki.
Homecoming quote: “We are excited to have Jason back. He, Malik and Antoine add a new dimension to the Mavs that we hope will take us to the next level.” — Mavs owner Mark Cuban
How it went: Three years after rejoining the Mavs, Kidd and co. (and Dirk Nowitzki) won an NBA title, beating the famed Miami Heat and LeBron James in the 2011 NBA Finals. Kidd’s veteran leadership was a large reason for the Mavs’ success.
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Why he left: After 13 seasons, three NBA championships and an epic run with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Wade moved on to his hometown Bulls in 2016. He had done everything he could with the Heat.
While he was away…: Wade spent one season in Chicago, and half a season in Cleveland (where he reunited with James), but his numbers were never quite up to par with his Heat days.
When he returned…: The Cavs dealt Wade back to the Heat at the trade deadline in February 2018, granting Wade’s wish to finish his career where it started. And he got James’ blessing.
Homecoming quote: “It is a beautiful moment for us, for the city and for the fans. All of us embrace it in the manner that we want to win and that’s why we brought Dwyane back home.” — Heat president Pat Riley
How it went: Wade injected leadership and freshness into the Miami squad after his midseason return in 2018 — the Heat made the playoffs as the sixth seed in the East. In the offseason, Wade announced the 2018-19 season would be his last. On April 9, he played his last home game in Miami, scoring 30 points. In his final game the following night, Wade recorded his fifth career triple-double with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers
Why he left: Harrison technically had three stints with the Steelers, as he was briefly with the Ravens after being released by the Steelers early in his career. But a second stint with Pittsburgh saw Harrison turn into a star pass-rusher, as he made five consecutive Pro Bowls from 2007-11 and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, a season in which he scored on a 100-yard pick-six to help the Steelers win the Super Bowl. The Steelers eventually released him after the 2012 season for salary-cap reasons. He signed with the Bengals.
While he was away…: Harrison never got his footing in Cincinnati, as he only had 30 tackles and two sacks. He was released after the 2013 season and announced his retirement as a Steeler.
When he returned…: The retirement didn’t take, and Harrison decided to give it a go and returned to the Steelers in late September for his third go with the club.
Homecoming quote: “Really, it was a simple and easy decision for us. We know James. James knows us. James understands how we desire to play defense. He understands the scheme.” — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin
How it went: Harrison provided the Steelers with veteran leadership and a situational pass-rush threat over the course of four seasons, compiling 5.5 sacks in 2014 and five sacks in each of the next two seasons. Faced with limited snaps in 2017, Harrison was released by the Steelers and signed by the Patriots, where he played in the playoffs and Super Bowl LII. He retired for good after the season.
Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings
Why he left: After seven seasons in Minnesota where he averaged 82 receptions for 1,306 yards and 13 touchdowns per year, Moss was traded to the Raiders in the 2005 offseason for a package including the No. 7 pick in that year’s draft. An incident in which Moss left the field with time remaining in a narrow loss to the Redskins, as well as his mock-mooning incident at Lambeau Field in the 2004 playoffs, were cited in reports at the time as evidence that Moss’ act had worn thin in Minnesota.
While he was away…: Moss’ numbers plummeted in two seasons playing for what was then a wretched mess of a franchise in Oakland, which won six games during the Moss era. It was after being acquired by New England in a 2007 draft-day deal that the Moss renaissance occurred. He would score 50 touchdowns in 52 games as a member of the Pats. The Vikings, meanwhile, made the playoffs twice in Moss’ five seasons of exile from Minnesota.
When he returned…: In a rare in-season blockbuster trade, Moss was dealt from the Patriots back to the Vikings in a rare as part of a package that yielded New England a 2011 third-round draft choice. A dispute over the 33-year-old Moss’ desire for a long-term contract was at the heart of the trade.
Homecoming quote: “To all the Vikings fans that’s coming to the Metrodome, put your No. 84 jerseys back on because I think it’s going to be a fun ride.”
How it went: Moss’ second stint in Minnesota lasted just four games, in which he had 13 receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns before being waived. Public disagreement with then-coach Brad Childress, along with an incident in which he reportedly lashed out at a team caterer, contributed to Moss’ second separation from Minnesota.
Jason Taylor, Miami Dolphins
Why he left: Nothing like reality TV to ruin a relationship. Taylor’s participation on “Dancing With The Stars” during the offseason in 2008 reportedly upset then-Dolphins executive Bill Parcells, who wanted Taylor to instead work out with his teammates. This caused a rift and on July 20, 2008, Miami traded Taylor to the Redskins for a second-round draft pick in 2009 and a sixth-rounder in 2010. Taylor had recorded 113 sacks in his first 11 seasons with the Dolphins, made six Pro Bowls and was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2006.
While he was away…: Taylor spent one season in Washington, recording 3.5 sacks in 13 games. In March 2009, Taylor was released after refusing to accept an offseason workout commitment. Taylor said he wanted to be with his family in Florida that offseason.
When he returned…: After patching up things with Parcells, Taylor returned to the Dolphins in 2009, signing a one-year contract.
Homecoming quote: “My heart has always been in Miami, and so I’m truly excited to call myself a Dolphin once again.”
How it went: Taylor, who had three stints with the Dolphins, added to his Hall of Fame résumé in his 2009 return. He had seven sacks in 16 games, recorded an NFL record sixth fumble return for a touchdown and notched his eighth career interception, which is the second-most all time by a defensive lineman. He went to the Jets in 2010, then returned to Miami for a third go with the Dolphins before retiring after the 2011 season.
Charles Woodson, Oakland Raiders
Why he left: Woodson was an immediate star at cornerback after being a first-round draft pick in 1998 out of Michigan, where he won the 1997 Heisman Trophy, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year and making the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons. Woodson was a first- or second-team All-Pro from 1999-2001 and helped lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002, but injuries in the next three seasons hindered his play and the Raiders let him walk as a free agent after the 2005 season. The Packers signed him to a seven-year contract.
While he was away…: A healthy Woodson became an elite player again in Green Bay, leading the NFL with eight interceptions in his first season with the Packers in 2006. His production increased from there, as he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and led the Packers to a Super Bowl title the next season. He transitioned from outside corner to nickel to safety with the Packers, making four Pro Bowls and being named All-Pro four times in seven seasons.
When he returned…: The Packers parted way with Woodson, now a safety, after a 2012 season in which he missed nine games due to a broken collarbone. The Raiders, looking for a mentor to help mold a young roster, brought Woodson back under a one-year contract in 2013. Raiders fans loved the move, as hundreds went to the facility to greet him when he visited before signing.
Homecoming quote: “Charles Woodson is one of those players that comes along and reminds you why you love the game. He is truly a one-of-a-kind player that goes above and beyond his Heisman Trophy and future gold jacket.” — Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie
How it went: After a rocky end to his first stint in Oakland, Woodson ended his second session with the Raiders on great terms. Not only did he serve as a mentor to young players such as Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, he combined for 10 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries before retiring after the 2015 season. Woodson, who finished his career with 65 interceptions, was a second-team All-Pro in his final year.
Tom Glavine, Atlanta Braves
Why he left: One would think that after winning two Cy Youngs and a World Series MVP and leading the Braves to 11 straight division titles, the team would do whatever it took to keep one of its aces. But after the 2002 season the Braves failed to match the four-year offer from the Mets, their chief NL East rival, and Glavine headed to Queens. “All I can tell you is if it was close, I’d still be a Brave,” Glavine told the New York Times in December 2002.
While he was away…: Glavine was far from Cy Young-caliber as he started with the Mets at age 37. In his five seasons in New York — he signed a one-year deal to remain with the Mets in 2007 — Glavine remained a workhorse, but finished with a 61-56 mark and 3.97 ERA. He was named to two All-Star teams with the Mets.
When he returned…: After missing the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, the Braves signed Glavine to a one-year deal for the 2008 season. Glavine had declined a $13 million option to remain with the Mets.
Homecoming quote: “We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from the players on our club, our staff and our fans concerning Tom’s return. Tom is a proven winner and a future Hall of Famer.” — Braves GM Frank Wren
How it went: Wear and tear caught up with the lefty. He made his first trip to the disabled list in his 22-year career that April and made another in August. Glavine made 13 starts, going 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA. The Braves brought Glavine back for 2009, but released him in June during a rehab assignment, citing a lack of velocity at age 43.
Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle Mariners
Why he left: Griffey rejected an eight-year, $148 million deal with the Mariners and had made public his desire to leave Seattle to be closer to his family. In the prime of his career — after putting up 398 home runs and 1,152 RBIs while winning an MVP and 10 straight Gold Gloves — he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 2000 after 11 years in Seattle.
While he was away…: Griffey hit 40 home runs in his first season with the Reds but was plagued by a string of injuries from 2001 through 2004. He ran his home run total to 608 with the Reds before being traded to the White Sox at the deadline in 2008.
When he returned…: Griffey returned to Seattle after agreeing to a deal as a free agent in 2009.
Homecoming quote: “The icon of the Seattle Mariners’ franchise is coming back to Safeco Field where he belongs. It’s just wonderful.” – former Mariners team president Chick Armstrong
How it went: Griffey homered on Opening Day in his return, but the end was near. After playing 33 games in 2010, Griffey left the team in the middle of the night to drive home to Florida and abruptly retired with a .284 average, 630 home runs and 1,836 RBIs.
Greg Maddux, Chicago Cubs
Why he left: After averaging nearly 17 wins from 1988 to 1991, Maddux made the jump to the elite level, winning 20 games in 1992 and earning his first NL Cy Young Award. Perfect timing, too, with Maddux in a contract year. But talks with the Cubs became contentious, and Maddux signed a five-year deal with the Braves.
While he was away…: Maddux created a path to Cooperstown. He won the NL Cy Young in each of his first three seasons in Atlanta, becoming the first pitcher in history to win four straight Cy Youngs. In Maddux’s 11 seasons in Atlanta, he won a World Series in 1995, captured 10 Gold Gloves, and helped lead the Braves to a division title in every season (except for the 1994 season, which ended in a work stoppage). He finished his time in Atlanta with a 194-88 record and a 2.63 ERA.
When he returned…: Just prior to the start of spring training in 2004, Maddux agreed to a three-year deal to rejoin the Cubs. The Braves, who were aiming to trim their payroll, failed to offer him arbitration after the 2003 season.
Homecoming quote: “The ballpark, the fans and the city of Chicago are outstanding. If you don’t like playing baseball there, you need help.”
How it went: He remained with the Cubs until 2006, but was basically average at best. Maddux’s shining moment in his second stint with the team came on Aug. 7, 2004, when he earned his 300th victory. Maddux, who won 355 career games, went 38-37 and didn’t record an ERA under 4.00 in his two-plus seasons back in Chicago. He was traded in mid-2006 to the Dodgers, who were in the playoff hunt and were looking for starting pitching depth.
Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners
Why he left: After 11 ½ seasons, 10 All-Star Game appearances, 10 Gold Gloves and 2,533 hits with the Seattle Mariners, Ichiro was traded to the Yankees in 2012. The Mariners were floundering in last place in the AL West at 42-56, 16.5 games back of the Rangers. Ichiro was 38 with declining skills and rather than releasing him in the offseason, the Mariners gave him a fresh start in New York. “When I imagined taking off a Mariner uniform, I was overcome with sadness,” Ichiro said through a translator at the time. “It has made this a very difficult decision to make.”
While he was away…: Ichiro hit .322/.340/.454 for the rest of the season after joining the Yankees, who won the AL East by two games and re-signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal. In 2013, Ichiro regressed to a .262/.297/.342 line and in 2014 bumped back up to .284/.324/.340, but he was let go after the season. Ichiro spent the next three years in Miami, mostly in a bench role, hitting a combined .256/.315/.325 over that span.
When he returned…: With concerns about their outfield depth, the Mariners announced in March of 2018 that they were signing 44-year-old Ichiro to a one-year contract.
Homecoming quote: “I want to give it everything I’ve gained, everything I’ve done in my career, I want to give it all right here in Seattle.”
How it went: Suzuki appeared in 15 games this year for the Mariners, hitting .205 in 44 at-bats (all nine of his hits were singles). Suzuki did have a few defensive highlights, including robbing the the Indians’ Jose Ramirez of a homer on the opening weekend of the season. On May 3, the Mariners announced Ichiro was shifting into a front-office role as a special assistant to the chairman, but the 2001 AL Rookie of the Year has not closed the door on playing again.
Mark Messier, New York Rangers
Why he left: Messier was a hero in Gotham in his first seven-year stint with the Rangers, leading the charge as the Rangers lifted the Stanley Cup in 1993-94, breaking a 54-year drought. He produced at a high level after the Cup season, with 99 points in 1995-96 and 84 in 1996-97, but the Rangers balked at giving the 36-year-old a lucrative extension. Therefore, “The Captain” signed with Vancouver as a free agent.
While he was away…: Messier’s production fell off a bit, as he only combined for 52 goals and 110 assists in three seasons with the Canucks. Vancouver also struggled as a team in Messier’s three seasons, missing the playoffs every year.
When he returned…: The Canucks made no attempt to resign Messier after the 1999-2000 season. With his old coach Glen Sather now the GM of the Rangers, Messier reconciled with the franchise and signed a two-year, $11 million contract in July 2000.
Homecoming quote: “I guarantee we’re going to make the playoffs. We all know where this franchise should be, where it’s been and where we’re going to take it again.” — Messier
How it went: Messier showed a bit of his old self in his first season back at Madison Square Garden, scoring 24 goals and adding 43 assists as a 40-year-old. But his production dropped and he never was able to make good on his playoff guarantee, as the Rangers missed the playoffs in all four seasons after his return. The 2004-05 lockout effectively ended his Hall of Fame career..
Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks
Why he left: Selanne was highly successful in his first stint in Anaheim, scoring 225 goals over nearly six seasons, including a 52-goal season in 1997-98 and 51 goals in 1996-97. Problem was, the team didn’t follow suit. The then-Mighty Ducks only made the playoffs twice in Selanne’s first stint and were languishing at the bottom of the Western Conference when the Ducks dealt him to San Jose just before the 2001 trade deadline.
While he was away…: Selanne’s production fell a bit in San Jose, as he didn’t surpass 30 goals in either full season with the Sharks despite being the team’s leading scorer. The Sharks also struggled in 2002-03, prompting Selanne to sign with the Colorado Avalanche as a free agent in 2003-04, where he scored 16 goals and added 16 assists while battling knee issues.
When he returned…: The NHL lockout in 2004-05 gave Selanne time to have knee surgery and recover fully, and he decided to return to the Ducks as a free agent on a 1-year, $1 million contract before the 2005-06 season.
Homecoming quote: “I’m very excited to be back in Anaheim. I have such great memories from there. I’m looking forward to many more. You never know in this business where you’re going to be. I had a feeling I was going to come back.” — Selanne
How it went: About as well as it possibly could have. After a 40-goal performance in his first season back in 05-06, Selanne finished third in the NHL with 48 goals in 2006-07 and helped lead the Ducks to the only Stanley Cup in franchise history. Selanne spent parts of the next seven seasons in Anaheim before retiring after the 2013-14 season as the most beloved player in franchise history. Selanne ended his career with 684 goals, good for 11th in NHL history, with 457 coming with the Ducks.