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Shock second comings

Ben Blackmore December 10, 2010
Australia have failed to replace the legspin of the great Shane Warne © Getty Images
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After reports emerged this week that Australia's Ashes desperation had led to them calling back Shane Warne, ESPN thought it was time to cast our minds back to ten of the greatest second comings...

Jason Robinson
"Billy Whizz" is one of the few sportsmen who can justifiably say he lived up to his nickname during his career, dazzling the opposition with side-steps and twinkle toes as he electrified crowds with his mazy runs from fullback. When he announced his retirement from international rugby in September 2005, he did so as a World Cup winner with England, an international team on the slide. Robinson's desire for the big stage had not left him though, and when a coach who shared the same attacking intentions, Brian Ashton, lured him out of the international wilderness in 2007, Robinson decided to play one more World Cup. He earned his place back in the England team with tries against Scotland and Italy in the Six Nations, but when the World Cup arrived disaster struck for the Sale Shark as he limped off injured during England's group stage hammering at the hands of South Africa. The dream return appeared to be turning into a nightmare, but England suddenly found form from nowhere, beating Australia and France to reach the World Cup final - aided by Robinson's return in the knockout stages. The Springboks would once again prove England's nemesis in the final, but Robinson fittingly bowed out on the greatest stage.

Michael Schumacher
When Michael Schumacher narrowly missed out on the 2006 drivers' championship, he decided to walk away from the sport at the peak of his powers as a seven-time world champion. But Schumacher was never going to be far from the sport he loved and dominated so comprehensively, and Ferrari kept him on in an advisory capacity at the team for the next four seasons. Sitting on the pit wall and watching was never going to be Schumacher's thing though and the desire to return was clearly evident. When Felipe Massa was injured in 2009, Schumacher was set to step in until a cracked vertebrae suffered in a previous motorcycle injury put his plans on hold. He did not have to wait long, however, and when Mercedes came knocking with the promise of a competitive car and no shortage of money, the 41-year-old Schumi was back. Many pundits predicted big things but his 2010 season proved a disaster and Schumacher got hammered by young team-mate and compatriot Nico Rosberg, all the while complaining of a car that did not suit his driving style. With two years of his Mercedes contract still remaining, Schumacher must find his form of old and quickly or risk walking away from the sport again, this time with his tail between his legs.

Lester Piggott
Lester Piggott is one of the most famous names in racing, but controversy often accompanies the talented and it was no different for Piggott. Known as the Long Fellow on account of his unusually tall nature for a jockey, he was a teenage sensation and won the Derby on Never Say Die as an 18-year-old. He went on to win the famous Classic on eight further occasions and dominated the 1960s and 1970s, winning the jockeys' title 11 times. He struggled with his weight throughout his career - hardly surprising for a jockey who stood at 5ft 8in - and took the decision in 1985 to give up the battle with the scales in favour of life as a trainer. He had only minor success and his life descended in 1987 when he was jailed for three years for tax irregularities. He served just over a year and, looking for a challenge upon his release, he took the decision to return to the saddle. It proved a fairytale return as, 10 days after making his comeback, he teamed up with the legendary trainer Vincent O'Brien to win the 1990 Breeders' Cup Mile with Royal Academy. He added one more Classic to his CV, the 1992 renewal of the 2000 Guineas on Rodrigo De Triano, before finally hanging up his saddle for good in 1995.

Michael Jordan attempted a career in baseball © Getty Images
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Michael Jordan
The sheer scale of Michael Jordan's impact on NBA was only truly acknowledged on the day of his first retirement. Largely known now as the greatest player to have ever graced the court, Jordan's face adorned the front page of newspapers across the globe when he retired in October 1993, citing a loss of desire for the game after his dad had been murdered earlier in the year. Jordan later went on to play baseball, fulfilling the vision his dad had for him as a child, but while baseball received a huge ratings boost, the team Jordan left behind - the Chicago Bulls - headed towards mediocrity. In their first season without their star man they were beaten in the second round of the play-offs, and then in the following season their 31-31 record was threatening the possibility of missing the play-offs altogether. Two words changed their fortunes. On March 18,1995, Jordan released a statement stating: "I'm back". Wearing the number 45, his legendary 23 jersey had been retired, Jordan led the Bulls to the play-offs where, ironically, he was stripped of the ball for the match-winning score as Orlando Magic won the first game on their way to victory in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. The real Michael Jordan came alive in the 1995-96 season, leading the Bulls to the best regular season record in NBA history, 72-10, picking up multiple MVP awards en route to winning the NBA championship.

Kevin Keegan
If Sam Allardyce was Newcastle's equivalent to chalk in the world of football, then his replacement was definitely in the cheese category. Allardyce, all statistics and pinboards, led an unspectacular - yet steady - spell during his eight months in charge, but those words do not fit the fabric of Newcastle Football Club. One man embodies the spirit of the club more than almost any other: Kevin Keegan. January 16, 2008 marked the return of the Messiah, the man who had taken Newcastle to the brink of the Premier League title 12 years previous. Since then he had gone on to manage England, but his love affair with Newcastle had not run its final chapter. Apppointed by owner Mike Ashley, hailed by Magpies fans at the time, Keegan's second coming did not begin well, going eight games without victory. However, he slowly adapted his side to a 4-3-3 formation that saw them end the season so well that relegation was barely an issue as they finished 12th. The problem came at the start of the next campaign, with Keegan keen to return the club to the glory days of Ginola, Shearer and Ferdinand. Ashley's vision, if similar, demanded that Keegan do it without the necessary financial backing, so on September 4 Keegan walked - sparking the inevitable protests outside St James' Park.

Brian Lara
Cricket has many metaphors applied to the game in order to add colour to day-long periods of commentary, with batsmen often said to be "wielding a blade" or "carving through extra cover". When Brian Lara had a bat in his hands, it was often like a wand. The only man to hit a century, a double century, a triple century, a quadruple century and a quintuple century in first class cricket, Lara set all manner of records. The 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham drew in English cricket fans to the county scene, while his unbeaten 400 against England in Antigua remains unparalleled on the international platform. Lara finally retired from all forms of the game in April 2007, although he has since played in sporadic matches for Mumbai Champs and Trinidad. Reports linked Lara to Surrey for the 2010 season, but when those talks fell through he surprisingly announced an agreement with Zimbabwean side Southern Rocks, where he top-scored with 65 on debut. However, the partnership lasted only three matches, with Lara citing "commitments elsewhere".

Steve Thompson
Unlike some of the other names on this list, when Steve Thompson called time on his playing career, he did so upon the advice of specialist medical staff. The combative hooker had lifted the World Cup with England in 2003, featuring in all but one of his nation's games as the William Webb Ellis Cup was claimed against Australia in their own backyard. On April 15, 2007, Thompson suffered a seemingly career-ending neck injury whilst playing for Northampton in the Heineken Cup. Time was called on the forward's career and he quickly settled into a role as recruitment and technique adviser at Brive. However, merely six months later Thompson felt his body could continue to play rugby, so he donned the Brive jersey in a club match against Connacht. The shock comeback continued and in 2009 Thompson earned an England recall under Martin Johnson. Now possessing a two-year contract at Leeds, the 32-year-old is currently on course to feature in England's World Cup squad in New Zealand next year.

Robbie Fowler scored 128 league goals for Liverpool © Getty Images
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Robbie Fowler
When Robbie Fowler left Liverpool for Leeds in November 2001, there was barely a dry eye in the Anfield house. A born and bred scouser from Toxteth, Fowler represented the Liverpool people. When the local dockers needed support, he risked FA action by revealing a t-shirt in their favour. When he later scored as a Manchester City player against United, he raised five fingers to the United crowd, acknowledging Liverpool's fifth European Cup won in Istanbul. As a player, he was known as the most natural finisher in the game, scoring 120 league goals in 236 appearances for the Reds. So when he was allowed to leave by Gerard Houllier at the age of 26, most Kopites thought they had let their prized possession go far too early. Rafael Benitez agreed. When he decided that he needed a back-up striker during the January transfer window of the 2005/06 season, he sparked joyous scenes on Merseyside by allowing the Prodigal Son to return home. Four league strikes in the final six fixtures of the season suggested Fowler might rediscover his old form, but he only managed eight in total before the final curtain dropped. He was also denied the dream ending to his Reds career when Benitez did not include him in the matchday squad for the 2007 Champions League final against AC Milan, which Liverpool lost 2-1.

Randy Couture
When Randy Couture retired from mixed martial arts in 2006, he did so with his legendary status already intact. A four-time UFC champion, he was one of only two men - along with BJ Penn - to have won UFC titles in two separate divisions. Working off a wrestling base that was good enough to make him an Olympic alternate for the USA, Couture brought down some of the biggest names in the sport, such as The Phenom Vitor Belfort and The Iceman Chuck Liddell. When he finally hung up his gloves after losing the decisive rubber to Liddell in their memorable trilogy, Couture was 42 and already considered past his best. However, months spent as a colour commentator only helped to amplify the inch being felt by Couture, who could see Tim Sylvia dominating the heavyweight division. Couture, fondly dubbed Captain America, knew he could beat the 6ft 8in Sylvia, so in March 2007 he put down the microphone to return to the Octagon. Now 43, he defied his age as he dropped the champion with his first punch, before commanding the fight for five rounds to earn his fifth UFC crown. Six fights later, Couture is still going at the age of 47.

George Foreman
In today's generation of showbiz first, fight later, boxers, George Foreman would have been heralded for his heart and go-forward attitude that yielded two world heavyweight titles. When lists of the greatest fights of all time are drawn up, his Rumble in the Jungle with Muhammad Ali almost always comes out on top. Foreman did not win that fight, but it was he relentless desire to attack that proved costly as Ali's "rope-a-dope" tactics allowed the bigger puncher to punch himself out. Such desire was the reason behind Foreman's decision to make a shock second return from retirement at the age of 38, ending a 10-year spell away from the ring. He stated that he wanted to fight Mike Tyson, but a series of victories actually led him to Evander Holyfield. At 42 years of age, Foreman lasted the distance with Holyfield, producing the Round of the Year in the process en route to an admirable defeat. Not done there, he then fought Michael Moorer for the heavyweight crown in 1994, stopping his opponent in the 10th round to become the oldest heavyweight champion in boxing history.

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Ben Blackmore is deputy editor of ESPN.co.uk