Sporting returns: back for good?

Steve McClaren’s return to Derby for the fourth time inspires us to take a look at the best and worst sporting returns. Sophie Chapman, Tom Harrow-Smith, Tom Cox, Bradley Cunningham and James Sproston share their thoughts.

Sophie Chapman
24th October 2016
Happy returns: Mourinho during an infraction with Gerrard. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Steve McClaren’s return to Derby for the fourth time inspires us to take a look at the best and worst sporting returns.

Sam Burgess

Ask any number of people their opinion on Sam Burgess’s time in rugby union and you would probably get 100 different responses. Some see him as a victim of the backlash from a terrible England performance, whilst others would argue that the fault lies with him to varying degrees.

Sam Burgess’s experiment into rugby union lasted just 21 games for Bath where he switched position from struggling centre to blindside flanker. Despite his poor performances as a centre he won five caps for England in this position before being dropped out of the squad. This was all in just 8 months since his debut for Bath. Following his world cup performances, many blamed the failure of England to progress out of the group stages on Burgess’s
selection, whilst Bath coach, Mike Ford, criticised Burgess for being unwilling to work hard.

With all the debate surrounding his rugby union career Burgess did the only sensible thing: switched codes back to rugby league, re-joining the South Sydney Rabbitohs with whom he won the NRL title in 2014. This wasn’t any old code switch, however. Burgess re-joined his former club for $1.5m AUD per season making him the
highest paid rugby league player of all time.

He marked his return to rugby league with a try in a close pre-season trial match. It seems the switch to union forged a better man and a better player, Burgess faced levels of adversity he’d never seen before as an undisputed wonder kid of rugby league. This change in character, and well timed switch back to league, have seen Sam selected in the 24-man England Four nations squad and named captain.

His recent turnaround in fortunes make the last year seem barely believable. You can say what you want about Burgess’s foray into union, just don’t tell him it was a failure.

Sophie Chapman

Jose Mourinho

Chelsea had been going through a period of managerial uncertainty since, Roman Abramovich had parted with ‘The Special One’ back in September 2007. Considering the very public and unceremonious split, few would have expected Jose to return back to the Bridge, but he did just that in the summer of 2013.

Not many predicted the reunion, but Chelsea did get through most of the available managers in the six years in between, so perhaps it inevitable that Abramovich would end up re-appointing someone in his little black book.
It must be pretty full by now anyway.

Mourinho’s first season in charge saw him guide the club back into an automatic Champions League qualification spot. He’d managed to steady a ship that had been rife with discontent from their fans after Rafa Benitez’ controversial spell as interim manager.

2014/15 was a season where the likes of Diego Costa – successfully snaffled from Atletico that summer – Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas really came into their own in a way which has yet to really be seen since at The Bridge.

Chelsea ended up strolling to the Premier League title by eight points, and, despite poor showings in the FA Cup and Champions League, Jose was starting to build something again in West London. Or so it seemed.

By the end of the calendar year Jose had been fired again, after a succession of poor results left his side closer to the relegation zone than the top four.

Looking back, It’s ultimately difficult to judge Mourinho’s second tenure in charge. Two trophies and a Champions League semi-final seem like a good return so in a season where none of the big sides came out on top. Was Abramovich too hasty with the fire button? Only time will tell.

Tom Harrow-Smith

Bradley Wiggins

Bradley Wiggins is Britain’s most decorated Olympian, and arguably one of Britain’s greatest ever sportsmen. His achievements speak for him - in his early career he focused on the rack, picking up medals at the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. With three Olympic titles and six World titles under his belt, he decided to head out onto the road.

Six years of road cycling saw him win World and Olympic titles, a Tour De France, and number of other major stage races.  But, after all his achievements, in 2014, Bradley decided it was time to leave the road and head back to the Velodrome.

Wiggins is one of few cyclists to have a significant impact on both the track and the road. His return was not entirely unexpected, given that he had always said he wanted to come back at some point. Two years on, and Bradley’s return has been nothing short of what we’d expect: an Olympic Gold, and the hour record broken on top of a number of other
major championship medals.

Looking over Wiggins’ exceptional road achievements, it may puzzle some that he decided to leave, but it seems he was just done with the road. In an appreciably candid interview with the Telegraph in 2015 he explained how he felt he was just getting to the end of each day, while the track was a breath of fresh air. And, just looking at his results, this is obvious, as after his Tour de France win and his Olympic Gold medal, in 2012 his only stage race win was the Tour of Britain in 2013.

Wiggins’ track Gold in Rio in the Team Pursuit cements his place as arguably Britain’s greatest cyclist, and means he can retire on top of the world, which, after the career he has had is no more than we’d expect. And certainly no more than he deserves.

Tom Cox

Danny Cipriani

Through the controversies in Melbourne and Manchester, Danny Cipriani has finally returned to the yellow and black number 10 jersey. After a turbulent six years away from home, Cipriani has set his sights on domestic and European success, and least not to mention put himself in Eddie Jones’ thoughts.

After 2 rugged years in Melbourne that were highlighted more by off-field antics and less on field successes, Danny Cipriani found himself scrounging for a Club, until Steve diamond came to the London lads rescue. Cipriani provided much success for Sale sharks, with over 590 points in 76 appearances.

A fruitful time at Sale Sharks provided what Cipriani wanted most, a return to the England set up. The return came in 2014 for the tour of New Zealand; later being selected on the team sheet for two of the 2015 six nations games. However, much to many pundits dismay, Cipriani failed to make the home world cup squad that ultimately put his club career in doubt, with a money move to France in the offering.

Sale, without trying, couldn’t put Cipriani on a high enough platform to highlight the best of his ability. France may have come calling, but Cipriani, wanting an England spot needed to stay on the right side of the Channel.

Come the 2016 season and Cipriani has returned home. Topping the list of some incredible summer recruits, with the likes of England counterpart Kyle Eastmond and Australian star
Kurtley Beale. Wasps are now laying the foundations for a rewarding season, and Cipriani will play a massive role if the club gets any success.

What Danny Cipriani can give Wasps in being one of the most creative number 10’s out there, Wasps can give Danny the pedestal he needs to try and get a starting place in the England set up and hopefully some well-deserved silverware.

Bradley Cunningham

LeBron James

LeBron James broke thousands of hearts in 2010 when he announced live on ESPN that he’d be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for Miami Heat. James was drafted into the Cavs set up when he was just 18, having been tipped as one of the best high school prospects in the country. He swiftly became one of the stars of the NBA, being awarded Rookie of the Year in 2004, and subsequently earning his place as an NBA all-star in the 2004-05 season.

It’s no surprise that his free-agency attracted so much attention in 2010, but the manner in which he went about choosing his next team was widely
criticised. Despite donating all the proceeds to charity, James’ own TV special, The Decision, seemed overly extravagant and unnecessary. So much so that on the same day, Cavs fans were filmed burning LeBron James jerseys.

After winning back-to-back NBA
finals in 2012 and 2013, and being named MVP in both, James announced he’d be leaving Heat after their finals defeat in 2014. In a more low-key statement, James declared he wished to return to Cavs, and he was signed a day later.

In his debut season, the Cavs made it to the finals for the second time in their history, but were eliminated in six games by the Andre Iguodala-inspired Golden State Warriors. However, Cavs didn’t have to wait long to get their chance for revenge, with both teams making it to the final for a second year in a row.

Despite Golden State taking a 3-1 series lead, Tyronn Lue’s side rallied and sealed a 4-3 series win after a dramatic 93-89 win in the seventh and final game. Any of those who doubted James’ devotion to the team would surely have been eating their words as he embraced Kevin Love in floods of tears.

In spite of what had happened in 2010, LeBron James is a Cleveland Cavaliers hero.

James Sproston

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