Serie A fans know that even the giants of the Italian game can find it difficult to hold onto their stars when clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United come calling. Losing a legend to a bitter rival can be a difficult pill for fans to swallow, but these stories sometimes have a happy ending.
Let’s take a look at some great Serie A players who made big money moves and then returned to the clubs that made them famous.
Few football players are idolized by both Juventus and Inter fans, but Zlatan is one of them. The prolific Swedish striker signed for Barcelona in 2009 after scoring 80 Serie A goals, but Italian fans would see him again just a year later.
Ibra returned to Milan in 2010 and then again in 2019, and he still knew how to shoot. Ibra scored 76 goals after returning to Italy, and he was still netting regularly when he hung up his boots in 2023 at the age of 41. Like many great NFL players such as Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers or Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts, Zlatan chose to retire wearing the colors of the club he loved.
Inter fans were thrilled in 2022 when Romelu Lukaku returned to the club after failing to secure regular first-team football at Chelsea. The Nerazzurri earned a club record transfer fee for Lukaku after he scored 47 goals in two years in Serie A, but the Belgian target man returned on loan just a year later.
Thomas Tuchel’s methodical approach did not suit Lukaku, but the direct style of Serie A was perfect for him. Lukaku scored 10 goals in 25 Serie A games for Inter during the 2022-23 season before accepting a loan move to Roma.
Regarded by many football fans as the greatest goalkeeper of all time, Gianluigi Buffon spent 17 seasons with Juventus before signing with PSG in 2017. Gigi always wanted to return to the club he loved, and that’s just how things worked out.
The legendary shot-stopper returned to the Old Lady of Italian football in July 2019, but he turned down a starting role and chose to finish his career on the bench. During his last season of top-flight football, Buffon took the field often enough to tie Maldini’s Serie A appearance record and keep his 57th Champions League clean sheet.
Not every Serie A second act ends in triumph, but fans can overlook the odd poor performance when the returning hero is a Ballon d’Or winner. Kaka won football’s greatest individual honor after guiding AC Milan to Champions League glory in 2007, which was also the year he was named the FIFA World Player of the Year.
That success secured Kaka a €65 million transfer to Real Madrid, but the Brazilian maestro did not enjoy the same kind of success in the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. After four injury-plagued years in La Liga, Kaka returned to Milan.
Kaka’s second spell in red and black was not as successful as his first, but the fans still loved him.
Andriy Shevchenko is another mercurial talent that may have ended up ruining his decision to leave Italy. During seven Serie A seasons with Milan, the Ukrainian striker scored 127 league goals and won a scudetto and two Champions Leagues.
That form earned Shevchenko a move to Chelsea, but the powerful forward never really settled in at Stamford Bridge. He returned to Milan on loan in 2008, but the magic was gone. Rossoneri fans still idolized their former talisman, but he failed to find the net in 18 Serie A games.
Serie A fans can be a fickle bunch, but they are usually happy to roll out the red carpet for players who once led their favorite teams to glory.
Some players return to their former clubs because things did not go well for them in England, France or Spain, but others come back to Serie A because they missed the magic of Italian football. Returning heroes remind fans of success and good times, and that’s what makes them special.