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New Delhi, Feb 14 – There’s no connection like that of a first love, and several footballers have understood this over the years by returning to their first Spanish clubs for a second time. This Valentine’s Day, take a look at some of the best player-club relationships that have existed in recent years.
Between 2014 and 2019, Antoine Griezmann became the leader of Atl�tico de Madrid’s attack and netted 133 goals to become the fifth highest scorer in Rojiblanco history. So impressive was Griezmann for club and country, winning the 2018 World Cup with France, that FC Barcelona decided to sign him in 2019 after almost securing his services in 2018. Despite scoring 35 goals in two seasons in Catalonia, he never seemed to fully fit in and a move back to Atleti materialised at the end of the 2021 summer transfer window. “Knowing that Atleti wanted me back, I wanted to return no matter what and this is the best place for me to be happy on and off the pitch,” Griezmann said before his re-debut with Los Rojiblancos, where he is now a permanent member of the squad.
Gerard Pique was just 10 years old when he joined FC Barcelona’s academy. After climbing through the various youth categories at La Masia, his first professional contract then came with Manchester United in England. Pique later debuted in LaLiga Santander during a loan spell at Real Zaragoza, where he played 28 times and scored three goals. After making several appearances for Manchester United following that loan experience, Pique then signed with FC Barcelona again ahead of the 2008/09 season, ready to fulfil his dream and play for the first team. After 14 and a half seasons defending the colours of his beloved team in LaLiga Santander, winning eight league championships, Gerard Pique announced in December that he was hanging up his boots.
The case of Dani Carvajal is very similar to that of Pique, but this time with Real Madrid. The Spaniard progressed through the Real Madrid academy after joining as a young boy and then made the move to Germany with Bayer Leverkusen. There, he proved that he had what it takes to be a top-level right-back and he was brought back to Real Madrid ahead of the 2013/14 campaign. Since then, he has become one of the club’s most valuable assets and has won three LaLiga Santander championships during his nine seasons with Los Blancos. His aim is to keep representing his boyhood club for several years to come.
Diego Simeone has spent most of his sporting life with Atletico de Madrid. After arriving ahead of the 1994/95 campaign, the Argentine midfielder was then a key member of the historic side that won the double the following season. A spell in Italy followed, before Simeone returned to Atletico de Madrid in 2003 to spend two more years wearing the red and white stripes. In 2011, he came back again, this time as a coach, to lead Los Rojiblancos to a golden age. El Cholo is a living legend at Atletico de Madrid and has lifted three Spanish championships there, two as a coach and one as a player.
Real Sociedad academy graduate Asier Illarramendi was able to achieve his dream of debuting in LaLiga Santander with his local side, doing so in 2010/11 against RCD Espanyol. The following year saw him play 28 matches as he confirmed his status as one of the rising stars of Basque and Spanish football. Real Madrid noticed his potential and signed him, but, following a complicated spell in the capital, the midfielder decided to return home to play for the Txuri Urdin again and to even captain the side. He is one of the faces of Real Sociedad, who he has played for more than 200 times in LaLiga Santander.
Gerard Moreno signed with Villarreal CF’s academy when he was playing at the Juvenil level and earned his senior debut at the club when they were competing in Spain’s second division. Promotion was secured that season and his LaLiga Santander debut followed, before the forward moved to RCD Espanyol and scored more and more goals. Having kept an eye on their academy product, Villarreal CF decided to sign Gerard Moreno back and he couldn’t say no to a team he loves so much. In 2020/21, he netted 23 league goals and was the top-scoring Spaniard in the entire division, while he has more than 100 LaLiga Santander goals from his spells at both clubs.
Ivan Rakitic is a LaLiga Santander legend, having won this competition four times while wearing the shirt of FC Barcelona. However, the club he most treasures is Sevilla FC, where he played his first minutes in Spanish football and where he became club captain. Following a successful stint with Bar�a, Rakitic decided to return to his first Spanish home to pull the strings of Sevilla FC’s midfield once again.
Atletico Madrid have more than a century of history, but have few legends quite like Fernando Torres. El Ni�o, or The Kid in English, came out of the academy to debut with the team at just 17 years of age, doing so when Atleti were struggling in Spain’s second division. Torres helped return them to their place in the top flight and then, after seven seasons, he departed to embark on a successful career with various foreign clubs. After winning almost every title there is to win in football, Torres returned to Atl�tico de Madrid in 2014/15 to reconnect with his first fanbase, the fanbase he himself was a part of. The striker enjoyed four more campaigns with the club, adding to his goals and appearances tallies to finish his career with 103 strikes across 281 matches in LaLiga Santander.
Iago Aspas is a key part of RC Celta’s history and vice versa. The forward who joined RC Celta’s academy aged nine was able to become an immediate hero when he eventually debuted for the senior side. After eight seasons with the Celeste, Aspas went off to try his luck elsewhere, but he was never as happy as when he was wearing his favourite club’s sky blue shirt. As such, he returned home in 2015 and is now the club’s top scorer with 192 total goals in 441 official matches.
To speak about Joaqu�n is to speak about one of the icons of Spanish football and of Real Betis. The 41-year-old is the oldest player taking part in the 2022/23 LaLiga Santander season and is Real Betis’ record appearance holder. During his first spell, he exploded onto the scene after coming through the club’s academy. Following time with teams such as Valencia CF and Malaga CF, the winger returned to Real Betis in 2015 to make Spanish football fans smile once more and to win another Copa del Rey in 2022/23.
On the other side of Seville, Jesus Navas is still playing football and still playing for Sevilla FC. The winger and full-back reached the first team after progressing through Sevilla FC’s academy and played 10 seasons at the top level of Spanish football. An adventure in England followed, before Navas decided to come home and he is now the captain of the current Sevilla FC side. With the Andalusian club, he has played 629 official matches and netted 38 goals.