For supporters there’s no greater joy than seeing a homegrown player come through the ranks and establish themselves as a first-team regular.
However, not every academy graduate makes it (see Chelsea in the 2010s), but there are examples of those who flew the nest and then returned years later. A recent name is Steven Bergwijn, who spent part of his formative years at Ajax before turning professional at Eredivisie rivals PSV Eindhoven.
The 25-year-old Dutch forward went on to continue his career at Tottenham Hotspur, but a lack of playing time forced a return to Amsterdam last summer. In light of that, here are several other players who returned to where it all began — but those reunions certainly proved costly…
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The 2000s saw La Masia enter a renaissance period. Barcelona’s famed academy churned out Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, who’d team up with fellow graduates Xavi and Carles Puyol. Before the decade was out, Gerard Pique would join them. He initially left Catalonia for Manchester United, but a lack of playing time saw him return. Barca paid £5m for the centre-back, which is nothing compared to what they spent to bring Cesc Fabregas back. Fabregas, who left home around the same time as Pique, would rejoin from Arsenal for £25.4m. It’s fair to say, despite a three-season tenure, the 2012/13 La Liga winner enjoyed a somewhat productive stint at the Camp Nou, which yielded 42 goals while he also created 50 more across 151 appearances in all competitions.
From: Borussia Dortmund
To: Bayern Munich
It’s somewhat fitting that Mats Hummels truly made his name in North Rhine-Westphalia, where he was born. That being said, the centre-back was a product of Bayern Munich’s academy, and before initially joining Borussia Dortmund on loan, the native of Bergisch Gladbach made one Bundesliga appearance for Germany’s most-decorated club. His one-season spell at Dortmund led to a permanent move and under Jurgen Klopp’s leadership Hummels cemented himself as one of Europe’s best central defenders. Bayern would subsequently break the bank for his return, but that stay only lasted three years before Hummels returned to Dortmund, where he continues to ply his trade.
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From: Bayer Leverkusen
To: Real Madrid
Staying in Germany’s top division and Dani Carvajal would carve a name out for himself at Bayer Leverkusen in 2012/13, which altered Real Madrid’s mindset. Carvajal emerged from La Fabrica before joining Real’s reserve team (Castilla) where he seemed to be an ever-present. Leverkusen were seeking a right-back and came across Carvajal, but Real added a buy-back clause in the region of €6.5m if they wanted to re-sign him after one season, which they subsequently exercised. “Real Madrid noticed the outstanding performances by Dani this season, and it was only a matter of time before they exercised their buy-back option,” Bayer’s sporting director Rudi Voller said at the time. Carvajal — with three La Liga titles and five European Cup crowns under his belt — hasn’t looked back since.
To: Man Utd
Paul Pogba was a mainstay in Manchester United’s youth setup before it became clear the path to first-team football under Sir Alex Ferguson was limited. He would ultimately join Italian powerhouse Juventus on a free. It was in Turin where the Frenchman developed into an elite midfielder, and this evolution saw a number of Juve’s fellow super clubs show a keenness to acquire his signature. In the end Man Utd won out and Pogba was greeted with the most lavish of homecomings. So much was expected of this reunion but it never really worked out as club and player would have liked. Pogba, whom the Red Devils paid £89m to re-sign, instead became the poster boy of United’s downturn in the post-Ferguson era. He would end a six-year association last summer and like deja vu, he has joined Juve on a free transfer.
To: Atletico Madrid
Madrid-born Morata had quite the tour of capital clubs in Spain during his formative years, starting out with Atleti between 2005 and 2007, before briefly joining Getafe and then ultimately moving the Real’s famed La Fabrica. It would be at the Bernabeu where Morata would burst onto the scene, making his first-team debut in 2010 as a late substitute for Angel Di Maria — and he would go on to make 52 appearances for Los Blancos, before joining Juventus. From there, the Spaniard would star for two seasons in Turin, return to Real Madrid, prompt Chelsea to pay £60m for his services and then finally return to where it all began for him: Atletico Madrid. Signed initially on loan, Diego Simeone had no inhibitions splurging £58m on a player who was once on the books as a youngster.
To: Atletico Madrid
Similar to Morata, Rodri spent a few years in Atleti’s academy, signing as an 11-year-old from Rayo Majadahonda in 2007, but he was released in 2013 due to a “lack of physical strength”, and he subsequently joined Villarreal. At the Estadio de la Ceramica, Rodri rose to meteoric prominence and Atleti realised the error of their ways, eventually bringing him back to Madrid in 2018 for around £20m.
From: Borussia Monchengladbach
To: Borussia Dortmund
The Dortmund-born, Dortmund legend naturally progressed through the youth ranks at, you guessed it, Dortmund. The 48-capped Germany international stayed in the Ruhr Valley for a decade before his release in the summer of 2006. He subsequently joined then fifth-tier club Rot Weiss Ahlen. In 2008/09 a 19-year-old Reus tore it up in the 2. Bundesliga following Rot Weiss Ahlen’s rapid rise up the German ladder and Monchengladbach ultimately pounced for his signature, where he continued to shine before Dortmund brought him home in 2012 for around £17m.
To: Sheffield United
Arsenal’s No. 1 graduated from Sheffield United’s youth academy after transferring from Bolton in 2013 and he signed a scholarship with the club a year later. In 2016 he penned professional terms and made two FA Cup appearances in 2016/17 — but that would be the scope of his Bramall Lane adventure during those early years between the sticks. Bournemouth brought him to the South Coast in 2017 for around £1m and he would go on to star for the club in the Premier League, prompting the Blades to bring him back to South Yorkshire just three years later for £18.5m.
It’s not often Southampton let talent slip through the net, they’ve cultivated a reputation as one of the finest producers of young stars in recent years, but Danny Ings came and went during his schoolboy years without leaving a trace. It would prove a costly academy departure as they would have to fork out £18m to sign him from Liverpool in 2019, though they did manage to sell him on for a profit last summer as Aston Villa couriered £25m to St Mary’s for his signature.
Given La Masia‘s reputation as football’s pre-eminent talent factory, it’s perhaps only natural that one or two don’t make the grade, but that doesn’t mean they’re not gifted enough to progress in the sport. Alba was released from Barca in 2005 for, apparently, being too small. Maybe understandable for a defender, but he was, at that time, playing as a left winger. Well, his size certainly didn’t appear to matter in 2012 when the club spent around £14m to bring him back to the club from Valencia.
To: Tottenham Hotspur
The unconventionally-built forward moved to Spurs from Queens Park Rangers in 1995 after the club’s coaching staff traded West London for North London, including QPR’s youth team manager Des Bulpin, who poached Crouch in the process. However, the former England international failed to make the grade at White Hart Lane and he would have to go away to make a name for himself back at QPR, before moving on to Portsmouth, Aston Villa, Norwich, Southampton, Liverpool and then Portsmouth again. It would be at the latter where Harry Redknapp would reunite with Crouch and the duo would form a blossoming partnership as Spurs broke the glass ceiling and made it into the Champions League in 2010.
From: Real Madrid
Arsene Wenger signed a teenage Anelka in February 1997 for a paltry £500,000. At that point, the 17-year-old had only made a few appearances off the bench for PSG, but a year later he would be winning a Premier League and FA Cup double for Arsenal, scoring in the final of the latter against Newcastle. Anelka’s rise at Highbury was of a world-class standing, which naturally provoked talent-hoarders Real Madrid to sign him for £22.3m in 1999. His stint at the Bernabeu lasted just one season, and he would be back in Paris the following year for £22m.
From: Rio Ave
A bit of a cheeky inclusion here as Ederson didn’t sign for ‘millions’, but we thought his story is interesting enough to warrant a place on this list. The Brazilian shot-stopper enjoyed two years in Benfica’s prestigious youth ranks but he would move to second-tier Portuguese side Ribeirao in 2011 in search of more consistent playing time. That is exactly what he got, and Rio Ave would ultimately sign him, where he became a mainstay in the Primeira Liga, eventually encouraging Rui Vitoria to bring him back to the Estadio da Luz in 2015.
To: Atletico Madrid
Don’t rub your eyes West Ham fans, Atletico Madrid really did bring Roberto back to the club, twice! Having progressed at Atleti and making one La Liga appearance during his early years, the club would re-sign him for around £1m from Recreativo in 2008 and then £6m in 2013 from Zaragoza. Despite having three separate spells at the club, he only made five appearances, conceding 11 goals in that time.