Matchday 18 was an emotional one for two Bundesliga stars who made much-anticipated comebacks. Stuttgart's Mario Gomez and Bayern Munich's Sandro Wagner both joined a select group of players who found their way back to where their footballing heart called them.
bundesliga.com recalls the tales of some of the most emotional homecomings in recent history.
The classic No.9: tall, strong, and a cold-blooded finisher, Gomez represents everything we know and love about German football. He joined Stuttgart’s academy aged 16 and a mere two years later was already playing for the first team. However, it wasn’t until the 2006/07 season when the wider footballing community took notice of Super Mario’s prolific goalscoring talent.
That year, Stuttgart shocked the Bundesliga by taking their fifth (and to this date last) domestic league title with a side comprised of players like Sami Khedira and Pavel Pardo. Despite the hype, he stayed at his boyhood club for two more seasons before moving to Bayern in 2009, where he became the league’s top scorer in the 2010/11 season and eventually won a historic treble under Jupp Heynckes in 2013.
After spells in Italy and Turkey, he returned to the Bundesliga for the 2016/17 season with Wolfsburg, and although he became a key figure in the Wolves' squad, the opportunity to come full circle with his first love proved too strong to resist. A full 3157 days after his previous Stuttgart match against Bayern in May 2009, the now 32-year-old returned home to VfB in the latest transfer period in a deal that will almost surely see Gomez hang up his boots at the same club that taught him how to lace them.
Watch: Gomez reflects on "a special game"
Born in and raised in Munich, a Bayern fan through and through, the striker learned his trade in the club's academy and finally realised his lifelong obsession of wearing the red jersey competitively on 11 August 2007 at the age of 19. Wagner played three more matches at the start of the 2007/08 season, but an appearance as a last-minute substitute against Hamburg on 2 September proved to be his last before a move to Bundesliga 2 side Duisburg.
Wagner had a rather nomadic experience over the next decade as he tried to establish himself in the top flight. Spells with Werder Bremen, Kaiserslautern and Darmstadt led him to Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim for the 2016/17 season, where he scored 11 goals en route to a well-deserved Champions League qualification for his club and an international debut with the Germany national team on 6 June 2017.
Watch: Wagner's top 3 Bundesliga goals
Aged 30, Wagner publicly admitted that he still hoped for a return to Munich, where his family was still based. His wish was finally granted during the 2017/18 winter transfer window. Coming on as a substitute against Bayer Leverkusen on Matchday 18, Wagner found his way back home 3,785 days after his last appearance for the Bundesliga champions.
Joining the Bayern academy at the age of just six following his family’s move to Munich, Hummels worked his way through the youth system and all the way into the record champions’ first team over 12 years. At the age of 18, he made his first, and for a long time, only Bundesliga appearance in Bayern colours on the final day of 2006/07 against Mainz.
Hummels would leave the Bavarians for rivals Borussia Dortmund the following season, going on to make over 300 appearances and captain the club. Two Bundesliga titles, a DFB Cup, a UEFA Champions League runner-up medal and a maiden Germany cap were the gains from his time in Dortmund, but some may say Hummels’ heart was always in Munich. Even as a BVB player, he returned to Munich for a special cause: his wedding to long-time girlfriend Cathy Fischer in 2015.
Watch: Hummels' career before his Bayern return
A year later and Hummels was back in Munich for good as he re-joined Bayern on a five-year deal. His second Bundesliga debut for the record champions came in a 6-0 victory over Werder Bremen on the opening night of the 2016/17 season. A full 3387 days after he last featured in the league for his beloved Bayern, Hummels was finally home and hasn’t looked back since.
Rafael van der Vaart
Some players don’t need major titles to become synonymous with a club. Such is the case of Rafael van der Vaart and Hamburg. Even though the Dutchman did win two Intertoto Cups, the reason his name is intertwined with that of HSV goes beyond silverware. His touch, vision and the sense of excitement he generated whenever he received the ball made him a magnet for spectators at the 'Dino'.
Given their struggles in recent years, it is easy to forget that Hamburg have a history steeped in tradition. The same fans that celebrated European Cup success in the 1980s craved another taste of success, and van der Vaart gave them hope of a return to former glory. So impressive was he, that after three successful seasons at the Volkspark stadium, Real Madrid signed the midfielder in 2008.
Watch: Van der Vaart bagged a goal and two assists in a 5-0 win over Nürnberg during his second spell at Hamburg
Despite a respectable return of goals and assists, the Dutchman could not settle in with the Galacticos and moved to Tottenham Hotspur in 2010. Two years later, Hamburg fans rejoiced as the their prodigal son returned to the club. Over the course of the next three seasons, he helped Hamburg survive the relegation play-offs twice, cementing his status as a club legend before saying his final goodbye in 2015.
The Turkish midfielder is an enduring reminder of the BVB side that caught the eye of football fans across the world under Jürgen Klopp’s tutelage. A Dortmund academy product, Sahin made his Bundesliga debut on 6 August 2005, becoming the youngest ever player in the league with 16 years and 335 days of age.
Many years later, after becoming a household name at the Signal Iduna Park and winning the 2010/11 Bundesliga title, Sahin was tempted away by Spain's Real Madrid. The midfielder’s time at the Bernabeu was no bed of roses and he was loaned out to Liverpool in England the following season, where it became clear after only six months that his old form was not to be found at Anfield either.
Watch: The Nuri Sahin story
In January 2013, Dortmund agreed a loan deal with Real to bring Sahin back home and eventually made the move permanent. Though he has not been able to shine as brightly as he did in the Klopp years, the midfielder's mere presence is enough to light up the eyes of Dortmund fans throughout the stadium.
During the Klopp years, Dortmund built up a reputation for making obscure signings that flew under the scouting radar of most European giants and eventually became absolute stars. Such was the case of Kagawa. After shining in the Japanese second division with Cerezo Osaka, BVB made a move for the little-known Japanese playmaker in 2010.
During the 2010/11 and 2011/12 seasons, he became a vital member in the squad that captured two consecutive Bundesliga titles and won plaudits for his vision, superb passing and eye for goal. Manchester United swept in for his services in 2012, but he was unable to settle at Old Trafford during his two seasons in England.
Quiz: How well do you know Shiji Kagawa?
In 2014, Dortmund agreed terms to bring their beloved Shinji back in time for Klopp’s last season with the club, which saw them bounce back from the relegation zone at the halfway stage to secure Europa League qualification by the end of the season.
The powerful striker has had an itinerant career, taking him to a number of clubs across Germany. After impressing as a youngster at Duisburg and Fortuna Düsseldorf, Terodde was snapped up by Cologne in July 2009, having made just ten league appearances at that point. However, in the subsequent two years he made just five outings for the Billy Goats – and failed to find the net in that time.
Leaving Cologne proved to be exactly the right step in his development, however, and he went on to score 23 goals in 87 Bundesliga 2 games for Union Berlin, before smashing in 41 in 66 matches for Bochum. That return caught the eye of Stuttgart, who were looking to rebuild in the second tier after their relegation from the Bundesliga at the end of the 2015/16 campaign.
A further 27 goals followed – including 25 last season as he finished as the division's top scorer to help the Swabians bounce back up to the Bundesliga straight away. While the 29-year-old's goalscoring pedigree is undeniable he has yet to prove himself in German's top tier, but Cologne evidently saw enough to sign him in January 2018 as they look to move off the foot of the table. A last-gasp winner in the Rhine derby against Gladbach in his first game back on Matchday 18 suggests it could be a perfect transfer for both player and club.
Watch: Terodde on the "indescribable" feeling of scoring the winner against Gladbach
The 10 longest times between Bundesliga appearances for one club
|Ulrich Stein (Arminia Bielefeld)|
Rudolf Müller (Cologne)
Stefan Kuntz (Bochum)
Andreas Möller (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Georg Volkert (Nürnberg)
Mario Basler (Kaiserslautern)
Sandro Wagner (Bayern)
Mats Hummels (Bayern)
Mario Gomez (Stuttgart)
Stefan Effenberg (Bayern)