In the modern age of football, it’s unusual for a player to make a return to a former club after being sold.
That’s because many perceived it as being a move backward from the player. Usually, players move on to try to further their careers, joining a club in a stronger position than the selling club.
Interestingly though, while not common, it happens and it’s interesting to track the development of Italy Serie A odds for such transfers, which typically happen towards the end of a player’s career, perhaps for sentimental reasons.
There have been several cases of players returning to Inter Milan like Federico Dimarco, Cristiano Zanetti and the legendary Giuseppe Meazza. But which players of the modern game have been the most high-profile returnees?
Most Days Away
Four of the top five players who have returned to Inter Milan after spending the most days away from the club were goalkeepers. Top of that list is Alex Cordaz who made one appearance for the Nerazzurri before going to Acireale Calcio.
In total, Cordaz spent a record 5813 days away from Inter before rejoining them from FC Crotone in 2021. He played one further match for Inter before leaving as a free agent in 2023.
Inter sold forward Goran Pandev to Lazio in 2004 for a fee of €8.00m. Six years after his move to Italian capital, Pandev returned to the San Siro on a free transfer in 2010.
After just a season and a half, he was quickly moved out again, this time on loan to Napoli. Pandev retired in 2022 as a Parma player having made only 68 appearances for Inter.
Romelu Lukaku moved to Inter Milan from Manchester United in 2019. The Belgian forward spent two very successful goal-scoring seasons with the club before an unsuccessful return to former club Chelsea.
The Blues sent Lukaku back to Inter on loan for the 2022-23 season. But with the parent club not wanting him back, he moved on loan to Roma for the 2023-24 campaign.
After joining from Lazio in 2002 for €40.00m, a year later the great Argentinian forward Hernán Crespo was sold off on the relatively cheap for €26.00m to Chelsea. A series of loans and free transfers saw him return to Inter on loan from Chelsea in 2006.
Crespo moved back to Inter permanently on a free transfer in 2008 and went on to finish his career with 153 goals in 340 Serie A appearances. A record not to be sniffed at, but for his talent, Crespo arguably never hit the legendary status that his talent promised.
Chilean superstar Alexis Sanchez is another player who eventually found his way back to Inter after leaving. Spanish giants Barcelona sold him to Premier League club Arsenal in 2014 for €42.50m.
Four years later, Arsenal strangely sold him to rivals Man Utd who eventually shipped him out to Inter Milan on a free transfer. Sanchez stayed on loan at Inter until September 2020 when he locked in a permanent stay following a free transfer.
In 2022, the winger went to France Ligue 1 side Marseille on a free transfer, before returning to Inter in 2023.
Brazilian forward Adriano initially signed for Inter from Flamengo in 2001 for €13.19m. However, he struggled to make the grade. He was sent on loan to Fiorentina before Inter sold him to Parma in 2002.
Two years later Adriano was an Inter player again, as they paid €23.40m to get him back from Parma.
This time things went better and Adriano spent six seasons with the Nerazzurri before being sent back to former club Flamengo on loan and then signing on a free transfer with them in 2009.
Adriano scored 74 goals in 177 appearances for Inter, winning the Scudetto twice, two Coppa Italia titles, and the Supercoppa twice – proving that second chances can work.
Elements of Surprise
Does a player returning to a former club work out? It is, across all clubs, very hard to find instances of positive returns, especially where transfer fees are involved.
What perhaps is the most striking thing about some names on the above list is that they are well-known stars of the game.
But there is almost an element of them being players who had a lot more potential to fulfil than they did – something that the loan moves and free transfers in each of their careers hint at.
Would any of the above returning players walk into an All-Time Inter Milan XI? No. While they spent time at Inter, none of them arguably could call it home.