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An Ode to Premier League Comeback Kids

Daniel Sturridge’s absolute belter of a goal versus Chelsea two weekends ago got me thinking: isn’t it lovely when a player who’s been written off turns it around?

Football has a multitude of narratives, but one that I think is really undervalued is that of the rebirth, rebrand and revitalising nature of the comeback kid.

In a world where we’re all too happy to move on to the next big thing, it’s great to be jolted out of that path and be reminded that sometimes things aren’t as black and white as a footballer being good one day and having his career over the next.

Sturridge is just one of many players in the Premier League era to have risen from the ashes and confounded his critics.

Let’s take a look at some of the best examples of this personal-redemption-tale:

 

Ashley Young

Young signed for Manchester United in 2011 from Aston Villa, where he had plied his trade as an out-and-out winger — the role it was assumed he would fill at United.

In his first few years at United, however, he only ever really featured as a bit-part player, mainly on the left wing.

By 2016, it looked as though Young was on his way out of United, only playing a total of 12 games in the 16/17 season.

And then something strange happened. First Louis Van Gaal, then Jose Mourinho, saw in Young the potential to play in a more defensive role.

He went on to feature as United’s first choice left-back for the entire 2017–18 campaign and even took on that role for England at the World Cup.

At 33, he probably hasn’t got too many years left at the top level, but he’s already managed far more than was expected just a few years ago.

James Milner

When James Milner left Man City for Liverpool in 2015 on a free transfer, most people assumed his career was beginning to wind down. Though he played reasonably regularly for the Cityzens, he was never really a first choice.
Yet in his three and a bit seasons for the Reds, Milner has revamped his career entirely.

Like Young, a positional switch to left-back proved to be a masterstroke by the management and Milner himself.

Since then, Milner has featured both at the back and in the middle of the park for Liverpool, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Now 32, Milner is a true veteran yet seems to still exude the exuberance he displayed in his youth.

Gareth Bale

Famously never on the winning side for Spurs in his first 24 matches at White Hart Lane, Gareth Bale was on the verge of being sold to Birmingham City in 2009.

Most at Spurs had written off the Welshman. As is clearly becoming a theme, a positional switch proved to be the catalyst for a career transformation. This time however, it was a move forward into a more attacking role by then Spurs Manager, Harry Redknapp, that completely revitalised Bale.

Famously he tore apart Inter Milan at the San Siro, and went on to become an absolute beast of a player and Spurs’ talisman, eventually scoring 21 Premier League goals in his final season with Tottenham.

A world-record transfer to Real Madrid followed, and though not quite living up to the insanely high standards set by Ronaldo at the Bernabaeu, Bale can still be considered one of the very best players in the world.

From over twenty consecutive games without a win, to becoming the world’s most expensive player: surely the best ever example of a Premier League comeback kid.

Jonas Gutierrez

A slightly different story here. Rather than a player written off because of form or quality, Gutierrez, the Argentinian left-midfielder, who spent seven years at Newcastle United was written off because of illness.

Diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2013, Gutierrez was poorly treated by the Newcastle upper management — he eventually won a lawsuit against the club for disability discrimination — and his time at the club appeared to be over.

Then, after a loan spell at Norwich and being given the all clear from his cancer, Gutierrez made a sensational comeback for the Magpies in 2015.

After featuring regularly for the team during the second half of the season, the Argentine capped off his turnaround tale with a goal and assist on the last day of the season which actually saved Newcastle from relegation.

He’ll forever remain a cult hero at Newcastle, and as far as comebacks go, his is one of the most heartwarming in Premier League history.

Daniel Sturridge

The man who started me on this train of thought.

Sturridge is in the unique position of having been written off multiple times.

Firstly, at Man City, Sturridge was considered surplus to requirements. The same thing happened at Chelsea, despite the striker having scored a decent 11 Premier League goals for the Blues (while playing mostly on the wing) in the 2011–12 season.

His move to Liverpool finally appeared to be the catalyst for a comeback, and Sturridge went on to form a formidable partnership with Luis Suarez for the 2013–14 season.

After Suarez’s departure to Barcelona, and a string of injuries, for the next few seasons, Sturridge struggled to recapture the form that had made him so lethal alongside the Uruguayan.

Many questioned his mentality, his fitness and even his talent, and this eventually culminated in him being loaned to West Brom last season.

Most assumed that was it for his Liverpool career, particularly as he continued to suffer from more injuries at West Brom.

And yet, this season, Jurgen Klopp saw enough in the striker to keep him at Anfield, and it would appear that his faith is beginning to be repaid.

With two goals so far (including that stunner against Chelsea) Sturridge has already matched his tally from the entirety of last season.

As always, it will come down to his fitness, but this season may well see the return of Sturridge as a potent Premier League force.

Long live the comeback kid.

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Premier League Table

# Team MP W D L P
1 Liverpool 35 30 3 2 93
2 Manchester City 35 23 3 9 72
3 Chelsea 36 19 6 11 63
4 Leicester City 35 17 8 10 59
5 Manchester United 35 16 11 8 59
6 Wolverhampton Wanderers 35 14 13 8 55
7 Sheffield United 35 14 12 9 54
8 Tottenham Hotspur 35 14 10 11 52
9 Arsenal 35 12 14 9 50
10 Burnley 35 14 8 13 50
11 Everton 35 12 9 14 45
12 Southampton 35 13 6 16 45
13 Newcastle United 35 11 10 14 43
14 Crystal Palace 35 11 9 15 42
15 Brighton & Hov… 35 8 12 15 36
16 West Ham United 35 9 7 19 34
17 Watford 35 8 10 17 34
18 AFC Bournemouth 35 8 7 20 31
19 Aston Villa 35 8 6 21 30
20 Norwich City 36 5 6 25 21

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