Who’d have thought, in October, that James McFadden would become a trendsetter? Well, after the injury-plagued forward returned to old club Everton, he started what has developed into something of a footballing fad. Or McFad, if you like.
This last week has seen the return to the Premiership of two of the league’s very greatest, Thierry Henry of Arsenal and now Paul Scholes of Manchester United.
Henry of course has been playing in the US for New York Red Bulls, and has come back to England during the MLS off-season. Scholes, on the other hand, retired from the game completely at the end of last season, seemingly moving on to the world of coaching.
It’s not just in England that this is the case. Heart of Midlothian recruited two old boys this season as well, with Rudi Skacel and Andy Webster two of the Edinburgh outfit’s best performers so far.
What does this tell us? Are managers becoming too reliant on experience over youthful experience, or becoming so unimaginative that they plump for the tried and tested? Or is this a good thing – showing players that their career can continue or go in different directions when most people are telling them it’s over and they may as well try out for the resident ‘Doesn’t know much but played 250 times for Liverpool’ spot at Talksport.
In McFadden’s case, he has been able to return to a club and manager – David Moyes – he knows well. For Everton, it is handy to have a forward with experience and proven ability (just ask any French football fan) come in for free and give the manager options when their striker department is barer than Manchester City’s trophy cabinet once the FA Cup gets taken out – and they have a chronic lack of funds for purchasing new recruits.
Hearts, too, have a bit of a spending problem. They can hardly manage to pay their players’ wages, never mind buy new ones. Skacel has come in and scored six goals for the club this season, while Webster has three.
Henry, then. Loved by Gooners, admired by the team’s rivals and hated by the Irish. Arsenal’s FA Cup tie tonight against Leeds could be our first chance to see what shape he’s in. He should be in pretty decent fitness, to be honest, considering he’s been in daily training and playing – and scoring regularly – in an increasingly competitive MLS.
For Henry, a chance to return to the club where he made his name. For Arsenal, a striker – besides Reliant Robin van Persie, obviously – who actually knows where the goal is. It could be a psychological boost for the other players to have such a talent in training and on the pitch for a few months – the equivalent of Henrik Larsson’s brief cameo at Manchester United in 2007.
Then there’s Scholes. Possibly the best central midfielder the Premier League has seen. However, besides the odd game he has failed to hit the heights of brilliance he showed back in 2003. When Edwin van der Sar retired, people said he could have kept going, as he was still at the top of his game (and did much better than the two numpties posing as United’s goalkeepers this season). Scholes, on the other hand, had called it a day because he had to.
He looked unfit in his 30-minute spell against Manchester City. And I don’t mean unfit as in the Fernando Torres unfit/lacking confidence/lacking support/the grass was wet/can’t play football. It was like me coming on in the Champions League and attempting to keep up with Lionel Messi. Embarrassing. He also contributed to the debacle that was Manchester City’s second goal, though to be fair Patrice Evra and Anders Lindegaard were competing for the ‘Biggest Clown on the Pitch Award’ at that point.
Hey now, calm down. He did show his trademark composure on the ball and range of passing. And he didn’t get sent off!
It is obvious that he is not a long-term solution, nor will he be the first name on the teamsheet every week till May. Tom Cleverley (when not injured) and Ravel Morrison are possibilities for the future. Scholes fills a temporary gap. And he said he missed the game so much he had to come back. Awww.
So, in the end, each old boy coming back to their old club is a different case. Some have pointed to desperation, others inspired managerial deal-making. We won’t really know which the Henry and Scholes cases will be until they get in a few games. As long as they don’t get in the way of promising young talent coming through, go ahead and bring in the old, I say.