Footballers who go back to Europe

By Monash Ken Source:Global Times Published: 2020/2/6 22:13:43

Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo Photo: VCG


The English Premier League is on hiatus for several teams as it takes its belated winter break but when it returns there will be new faces ready for the run-in.

Manchester United's new Nigeria striker Odion Ighalo is the biggest name, with the top scorer at the last African Cup of Nations joining the Old Trafford side on loan from Shanghai Shenhua of the Chinese Super League (CSL). 

The Red Devils are next in league action against Chelsea under the floodlights at Stamford Bridge on February 17 and their new No.25 will be expected to lead the line for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side.

He is not the only new arrival from Chinese football. 

Richairo Zivkovic, the former Ajax wonderkid, is another player to swap China for England. The forward left Ighalo's former Chinese club Changchun Yatai, now in second tier China League One, for Sheffield United and could be in line for a debut when the Blades are in action against Bournemouth on Saturday.

Belgium international Yannick Carrasco was the other player of note to move to one of the big five European leagues. The winger returned to Spanish side Atletico Madrid from Dalian Pro to reunite with manager Diego Simeone, under whom his form had reached the heights where he was linked with moves to some of the biggest teams in European football.

Virus concerns

It is a surprise that there were not more players left China, as reports in the English press had many foreigners looking for a return to Europe as the coronavirus has called the Chinese Football Association (CFA) to put all football on hold for the foreseeable future.

The ex-Newcastle United hitman Salomon Rondon at Dalian Pro was another linked with Manchester United, for example, before they went for former Watford striker Ighalo.

Two more players did come close.

The CSL's record top scorer Eran Zahavi would be a Tottenham Hotspur rather than Guangzhou R&F player had the transfer window stayed open a little longer. The Israeli, who scored 29 goals last season to break China international Ai Kesen's long-standing league record, was a late target for the London club but they ran out of time to get the deal over the line.

Cedric Bakambu has had his profile on German transfer website transfermarkt as an "Almost FC Barcelona" player after he nearly signed for the Spanish champions from Beijing Guoan. The DR Congo striker was at Hong Kong International Airport on the way to Spain when he was told the move was off.

Remarkably, after injuries to Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez it has been reported that the move may be back on again as the Catalan giants consider an emergency loan to alleviate their injury worries.

Silverware expectations

While some supporters sniff at a player returning from the CSL, and all of these players made their names overseas before becoming transfer targets for CSL sides, there is reason for hope at the clubs that have brought back the latest crop.

What can they expect?

Well, if you take the former Spurs flop and AFC Champions League winner with Guangzhou Evergrande Paulinho as the example then silverware beckons. The Brazil international moved from South China to sunny Spain when he went to FC Barcelona for the 2017-18 season. 

He finished it as a La Liga champion and played almost 50 times for the side over the season, scoring nine times. Following the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the midfielder returned to Guangzhou.

Similarly, Red Star Belgrade are top of the Serbian top flight again and that is in part down to Richmond Boakye. 

The striker spent a season at Jiangsu Suning before returning to Belgrade and in doing so became the first foreigner to serve two stints at the Serbian giants. They won the title on his return.

Another former CSL player who might expect some silverware at the end of the season is Borussia Dortmund's Axel Witsel. 

The former Tianjin Quanjian midfielder moved from China to Germany when his CSL side experienced financial difficulties. Witsel was regarded as the Bundesliga side's best player when they finished second last season and they are hoping to go one better this time out.

Carlos Tevez, whose time at Shanghai Shenhua was the stuff of ridicule, not least because the former Manchester United and Manchester City forward preferred a trip to Shanghai Disneyland over watching his teammates, is another player who went back to where it all began. 

The Argentina international left Shanghai for Boca Juniors and the side went to the final of the Copa Libertadores, losing the final to great rivals River Plate.

Demba Ba also came close to glory with Turkish Super Lig side Istanbul Basaksehir. 

He helped them to second place in the league last season after arriving from Shanghai Shenhua and they occupy second spot again this season. Ba also helped Besiktas to a league title on loan after he left Shenhua on loan in 2017.

John Mikel Obi, who recently made the headlines for speaking out against the racist abuse he has received while at Trabzonspor, is another former CSL player in Turkey. 

The Nigeria captain, who spent several seasons at Tianjin Teda, is currently third in the table with his new club and they have title dreams of their own.

Popular destination

Turkey is a popular destination for players from the CSL. 

Didier Drogba paved the way when he went to Istanbul giants Galatasaray following a bizarre time at Shanghai Shenhua. 

He won the Super Lig title there before moving back to Chelsea and winning the 2014-15 English Premier League.

Even Nicolas Anelka, who was Drogba's manager at Shenhua, went from China to Juventus. He has a Serie A winner's medal on his CV for that.

Even without winning titles there is hope for players. 

Seydou Keita left his time at Dalian Aerbin and went on to play for both Valencia and Roma, a definite step up in standards from the CSL if not quite the heights of Barcelona, where he left for China.

That is the least we can expect from the global game in the future. 

Newspaper headline: Returned with interest


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