We’re only a few short weeks into 2012 but this year has already been labelled the year of the comeback. It was just a week old when Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson pulled off a major surprise - a trait the Glaswegian is prone to now and again - by naming the previously retired Paul Scholes as a substitute for his team’s FA Cup clash with neighbours Manchester City. The reason given for the 37 year old’s return was the lengthening injury list at Old Trafford but there’s no doubt the sly old fox that is Fergie was trying to outwit City boss Roberto Mancini and his money-laden side. United won 3-2 although this was more to do with the controversial sending off of City’s Vincent Kompany than the presence of Scholes, who appeared in the second half but then gave away possession that led to City’s second goal as they threatened an unlikely comeback from 3-0 down.
A day later, there was another comeback from a player that illustrated the sometimes fickle nature of football. Thierry Henry spent eight glorious years at Arsenal and has become a legendary figure in the red and white part of north London. His departure in 2007 to Barcelona left many Gooners fans devastated and his 174 goals in 254 appearances for the Gunners meant he would always be remembered as an Arsenal great. In 2010, Henry left Barcelona to end his glittering career in the United States with New York Red Bulls. When the transfer window opened in January, the possibility opened for Henry to move on loan back to English football - and there was only going to be one club where the Frenchman would head. And so Henry signed an eight-week deal at the club he loves and was a substitute in Arsenal’s FA Cup tie against Leeds United. Those who believe that things are written in the stars will tell you it was inevitable that Henry, wearing the number 12 shirt, would come and score the only goal of the game - his 12th goal in 12 appearances against Leeds United - 12 minutes from the end of Arsenal’s first home game of 2012...
What surprised me more than Henry’s re-appearance in an Arsenal shirt was that the vilification the Frenchman received a little over two years ago - when he handled the ball before crossing for William Gallas to score France’s winner against the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup play-off - was largely forgotten. Despite calls for him to be banned, at the time of the incident, from the World Cup Finals, Henry was once again the hero, the man who epitomised everything that is good about football…
Hearts, of course, have had their own comeback kings over the years. Fans were devastated in 1988 when the legend that was striker John Robertson swapped Tynecastle for Tyneside in a deal worth £750,000. However, his brief time at Newcastle United didn’t work out and Robbo returned home eight months later for the same fee that took him south in the first place. The wee man’s return to Gorgie saw him resume the mantle of ‘Hammer of the Hibees’ - his first goal second time around at Tynecastle was a late winner against Hibs - and he would go on to become Hearts record league goalscorer.
More recently, Rudi Skacel returned to Hearts after a four-year hiatus. The man who scored Hearts goal in their Scottish Cup triumph over Gretna at Hampden in 2006 left for Southampton soon after but the Czech Republic’s time south of the border wasn’t quite as fruitful as his time in Scotland’s capital city. After spells with Hertha Berlin, Slavia Prague and Larissa in Greece, Skacel returned to Tynecastle in September 2010, much to the delight of his adoring fans.
At present, it isn’t clear if Skacel will still be at Tynecastle beyond his contract, which is due to end on 31 January. While the midfield player extraordinaire spoke about his desire to remain with Hearts until the summer, we all know things can change quickly and dramatically in football. Skacel’s performance against St. Mirren at Tynecastle on 14 January when he bagged a hat-trick as ten man Hearts performed a minor miracle by winning 5-2 was the stuff of legend - the fact the team were 2-1 and a man down meant the result was a fantastic comeback in itself.
All of which just goes to show you can never say never. If Rudi does leave the building, does anyone have Drew Busby’s phone number? Now that would be a comeback!