Ranking The 10 Most Famous Player Returns In Serie A

Few things are more exciting in sports as an athlete gloriously returning to his former team. But for every LeBron James come back to Cleveland, there are several botched returns that left the disappointing fans wishing it never took place. Italian football is no exception, so we picked the 10 most famous player returns in Serie A and decided to rank them starting from the worst and till the best.

N.B: The names included in this list are exclusively from the modern era (21st century), and in order for a comeback to be eligible, the player must have left on a permanent basis before returning later on in his career, thus if a player only leaves his club on loan, his stint at the said club will technically count as one. 

10 – Andriy Shevchenko (Milan) 

During his first Milan stint between 1999 and 2006, Andriy Shevchenko was among the very best players in the world. The Ukrainian bomber terrified defenses all around Italy and Europe as he scored 172 goals for Milan, winning a Champions League title and a Scudetto, as well as decorating his illustrious career with a Ballon d’Or award in 2004.

And just when Sheva was beginning to slow down, former Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani made a fabulous deal, as he sold the current Ukraine national team coach to Chelsea for 44M euros – a hefty sum at the time – where he, unfortunately, struggled for form and goals.

So after selling a player whose career was in a free fall for a large sum of money, Milan should have walked out of the Shevchenko business for good. And yet, Berlusconi’s love for nostalgia, made him unexplicably bring back his former striker on loan to Milan, where he failed to score a single goal during one of the worst comebacks in football history.

9 – Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus) 

While Milan fans were at least happy to see Sheva once again, Juventus supporters welcomed Fabio Cannavaro back with boos and insults, as the 2006 Ballon d’Or was considered among the “traitors” who left the club after its forced relegation to Serie B in pursuit of sunnier places.

Thus, Cannavaro had only one way to earn back the love of the Bianconeri fans after his return from Real Madrid, and that is to retrieve his best form once again. But the former Italy captain failed to so during a disappointing 2009-2010 season and ended up leaving Juventus for good after one forgettable year.

8 – Kaka (Milan) 

Former Ballon d’Or winners making failed comebacks is apparently a recurring theme. During his first stint, Milan fans had the joy of witnessing Kaka slowly turning into the best player in the world – right before Ronaldo and Leo Messi took over – as he had the whole world awed with his magical feet.

Unfortunately for Kaka, his adventure at Real Madrid ended up being an underwhelming affair after suffering from several injuries, as well as the emergence of a young Mezut Ozil.

In 2013, the Brazilian playmaker completed his return to his first European love. And although he did have few good moments, this version of Kaka was clearly incomparable to the Ballon d’Or winner who led the club for Champions League glory in 2007.

Kaka & Shevchenko are two Milan legends, but their Serie A returns didn’t work out too well.

7 – Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus) 

At the end of the 2017-2018 season, the Juventus world waved an emotional goodbye for perhaps the greatest goalkeeper in the game’s history, after spending 17 long years of ups and downs at the club.

Despite most people’s belief that he was going to retire back then, a call from PSG changed it all, as Gigi decided to extend his careers into his 40s. And after just one season in Paris, Juventus decided to bring their legendary shot-stopper back.

And even though a host of football purists do not enjoy witnessing one of the game’s greats spending his final playing years on the bench, Buffon seems happy to be back at his adopted home, breaking some more records in the process, while Juventus can count themselves lucky to have a back-up shot-stopper of this magnitude.

6 – Martin Caceres (Juventus) 

The Uruguayan defender might not be the most prolific name on this list, but a player that spends three separate stints at Juventus in one decade certainly earns a mention.

Caceres’ initial stint during the 2009-2010 season – on loan from Barcelona – didn’t go according to plan, as the Bianconeri suffered from a terrible season which saw the team finishing in 7th place, as they opted against signing the defender permanently.

And yet, when Antonio Conte took over he decided to bring Caceres back to the club as a back-up for the wonderful trio of Barzagli, Bonucci, and Chiellini. The Uruguayan was once again called upon by Massimiliano Allegri as he was given a third stint in 2019, which marks him a the main utility man at Juventus in the last 10 years.

Instead of just one comeback, Martin Caceres made his return to Juventus twice.

5- Radja Nainggolan (Cagliari) 

Although Nainggolan’s best years came between 2014 and 2018 while playing for Roma, he had previously caught the eye as a rising young star in Cagliari’s midfield.

After an underwhelming season at Inter, the Ninja made a surprising comeback to the Isolani side and was able to find his form again, as he managed to be picked among the best midfielders in Serie A last season. This successful return could have been ranked even higher had Cagliari been able to keep Nainggolan on a permanent basis this season.

4- Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus) 

Similarly to Cannavaro, a section of the Juventus supporters never forgave Bonucci for the way he left the club in 2017 and joined their rivals Milan, at a time when he was considered as one of the best defenders in the world.

His departure was shocking, and his return a year later was even more awkward. But unlike Cannavaro, Leo was able to win back the support of the fans with some solid displays that rendered him an indispensable piece in the plans of Allegri, Sarri, and currently Andrea Pirlo.

Although his best days might be behind him, Bonucci managed to become captain whenever Chiellini is absent, and already added two more Scudetto titles since making his fortunate comeback.

Gianluigi Buffon and Leonardo Bonucci both made their Juventus back only one year after leaving

3- Diego Milito (Genoa) 

In 2004, a young Diego Milito arrived at Genoa on loan from Real Zaragoza and enjoyed an impressive season in Serie B, during which he scored 21 league goals.

At the end of the season, Diego returned to Zaragoza where he reunited with his brother Gabriel and led the Spanish club to its glorious heights. Nonetheless, Genoa still had a warm place in the Argentine striker’s heart, as he returned to the Port city in 2008.

His second stint at Genoa might have also been short, but nonetheless a successful one with 24 league goals, which ultimately set him for a move to Jose Mourinho’s Inter, where a became one of the deadliest strikers in the world and leading the Nerazzurri for a historic treble.

2- Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Milan) 

When Zlatan leaves, Zlatan never looks back. And yet the Swedish giant decided to make an exception, returning to Milan almost 8 years after his departure from Italy.

During his first Rossoneri stint, Ibrahimovic led Milan to their only Scudetto title in the last 15 years, and that period can still be considered as one of the best in his illustrious career. Thus, Milan remained Ibra’s chosen home.

Making a comeback at 38 years old was never going to be an easy task, and yet the legendary Swede was able to turn Milan’s fortunes with some significantly improving results between the end of last season and the beginning of the current one.

While Ibrahimovic can no longer take on an entire defense on its own, he’s still grabbing goals for his team and acting as the leader and mentor for a young Milan side. And this comeback only lacks one significant accomplishment in order to claim the first spot on the list.

1- Fabio Quagliarella (Sampdoria) 

Who would ever think that a controversial incident would end up being the flame that would relaunch an aging striker’s career?

After refusing to celebrate a goal he scored for Torino against his hometown club Napoli, the Granata supporters’ anger led to Quagliarella’s unceremonious exit, as he landed back at the club where he initially made a name for himself as one of the most exciting players in Italian football.

Sampdoria thought they made a good deal, signing a useful veteran striker. But they were wrong, as they actually made an excellent deal,  with Quagliarella – at the age of 36 – becoming the league’s top scorer during a stunning 2018-2019 season, scoring a host of incredible goals, including a famous back-heel volley against Napoli – and even then, he still refused to celebrate it.