Best and worst sporting comebacks: Who made a successful return and who should have stayed at home?

Andrew Flintoff is on the verge of making his comeback to professional cricket after almost five years out of the game.

The former England international hero is due to play for Lancashire in the NatWest T20 Blast competition starting with tonight’s clash against Yorkshire – his first outing since quitting the test field at the end of the 2009 Ashes series and then retiring definitively the following year.

The Lancashire star is not the first person to attempt to return to the sport they have left behind – with some faring far better than others.

While some sports stars return to glory and untold triumphs, others are left wishing they had stayed blissfully retired.

Here MM looks at some of the best and worst comebacks…


Kim Clijsters

The Belgian tennis star retired from the sport in 2007 thanks to a succession of injuries but announced that she would be returning in 2009.

In between those years, Clijsters gave birth to her daughter and then made her competitive return to tennis in Cincinnati – reaching the quarter finals.

Her third tournament back was the US Open where she claimed her second Grand Slam title, making her the first mother to claim a major since Evonne Goolagong in 1980 and cementing her triumphant return.

Clijsters went on to defend the US Open title a year later as well as claiming the Australian Open in 2011 and returning to world number one, cementing her return as one of the best in sporting history.

Paul Scholes

The Manchester United legend announced that he would be retiring from the game in May 2011 after an 18-year playing career at Old Trafford.

In January 2012, the midfielder had a change of heart and made his return to provide the passing spark that was missing from Ferguson’s side.

Scholes returned in the FA Cup third round victory over Manchester City at the Etihad and while he was unconvincing in that game, Scholes’ influence dragged United back into the title race – where they would miss out to City on goal difference.

The ginger-haired magician stayed on for the following season before retiring ahead of David Moyes’ first season in charge. In terms of the impact he made on returning, Scholes’ comeback must rank as one of the best.

Floyd Mayweather Jnr

Probably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Floyd Mayweather Jnr still retains a perfect boxing record – currently standing at 46-0.

Mayweather took on Ricky Hatton in Las Vegas in 2007, thrashing the Manchester-born boxer and then announced his retirement.

The USA boxer, who has also competed on ‘Dancing with the Stars’, returned from retirement in 2009 to fight Juan Manuel Marquez.

Mayweather has since beaten some of the biggest names in boxing including Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto and continues to be linked with bouts with Amir Khan and Manny Pacquiao.

Michael Jordan

The biggest name in basketball history was instrumental in leading the Chicago Bulls to three NBA Championships in a row between 1991 and 1993 before retiring.

Jordan attempted to start a career in baseball before announcing that he would be returning to the Bulls in 1995.

In 1996, Jordan led the Bulls to the NBA Championship again, completing another ‘triple-peat’ with victories in 1997 and 1998.

George Foreman

Now better known for his ‘lean, mean, fat-reducing grilling machine’, George Foreman is one of the greatest boxers of all time.

Foreman claimed his first heavyweight title in 1973 with victory over Joe Frazier before retiring at the age of 28.

His return to the ring came ten years later and he went on to become the oldest World Heavyweight Champion at the age of 45 when he knocked out Michael Moorer in Las Vegas.



Muhammad Ali

The greatest boxer of all time twice made the horrendous decision to return to the ring after retirement.

Ali initially retired after the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ but returned to fight Leon Spinks – a fight in which Spinks was awarded victory on points by the judges.

A rematch was granted by Spinks and Ali won his title back before retiring again in 1980.

He then returned once more in two embarrassing fights against Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick – proving he should not still be boxing and that he should never have made his disastrous return to the ring.

Michael Schumacher

The German superstar, who had claimed seven Formula One titles returned to the sport with Mercedes in 2010 aged 41.

On his return, Schumacher never achieved more than mid-field mediocrity and rarely looked like having the speed to trouble the podium before retiring again in 2012.

While he will always be a legend of the sport, Schumacher’s return chipped away at his legacy and was a move that he simply shouldn’t have made.

Bjorn Borg

As a winner of 11 grand slam titles, including five at Wimbledon, Bjorn Borg had his place as a tennis great secured for life.

That made his decision to return all the more questionable.

Borg came back after eight years away from the sport and did so still wielding his wooden racket, when advancements had been made in the sport which made it impractical and gave him little chance of success.

After 12 straight first-round defeats, and a loss to Alexander Volkov, Borg moved on to the senior tour just in time to rescue his reputation and quick enough for people to forget his comeback.

Ricky Hatton

The Manchester boxer had one of the most impressive records of any British boxer ever before losing his unbeaten record to Floyd Mayweather Jnr.

Hatton then went on to face Manny Pacquiao and was comprehensively beaten – prompting his retirement.

For some reason, after three years of living a life not suited to professional boxing, Hatton returned to the ring where he was knocked out by Vyacheslav Senchenko and promptly retired again.

Hatton is the perfect example of where once a sporting icon is retired, they should stay retired.

Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz became a household name by winning seven swimming gold medals at the 1972 Olympics.

He tried to return to the pool almost 20 years later having been offered almost $1bn to qualify for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

The 41-year-old fell two seconds shy of the qualifying times needed.

Main image courtesy of Channel 4 via YouTube, with thanks.

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