Solskjaer and Ferdinand

Eight Reds who returned from long absences

Wednesday 05 January 2022 12:24

Phil Jones returned to Manchester United’s Premier League line-up for the first time in 712 days during Monday’s 1-0 defeat to Wolves at Old Trafford.

Jones’s previous top-flight appearance had come on 22 January 2020 and, according to Opta, the near two-year gap is the longest any Red has been forced to wait between games in the competition, other than those who have left the club – Paul Pogba, for example – or gone out on loan, like Tim Fosu-Mensah or David May.

The incredible stat, coupled with Jones’s impressive performance at the back on an otherwise disappointing night, got us thinking about United players from the past who have returned from substantial absences and slotted back in, much to the delight of our fans.

Of course, the primary reason behind Phil’s time on the sidelines has been injury, as it was for team-mate Luke Shaw.

The left-back suffered a nasty leg break during a Champions League tie with PSV Eindhoven in September 2015 and only returned to action 11 months later.

He has since established himself as a first-team regular, winning the club’s Player of the Year prize in 2019 and recently making his 200th appearance for the Reds.

Current MUTV pundit Wes Brown also overcame an injury setback early in his career before flourishing at Old Trafford.

A knee injury resulted in Wes missing the whole of the 1999/2000 campaign and over 500 days had elapsed without playing when Brown finally made it back into the first team.

Wes went on to start at right-back in the 2008 Champions League final, in place of the recovering Gary Neville.

After damaging knee ligaments during a March 2007 league win over Bolton Wanderers, the club captain had made a brief cameo in the quarter-final clash with Roma the following April, gaining a rapturous reception when introduced from the bench.

However, Gary had to wait a further five months before experiencing Premier League action again, although he would go on to win another title at the end of that season.

Gary Neville makes an emotional return.

Another Treble-winning hero in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had his own injury problems, especially during the latter stages of his decade-long United spell.

Other than a six-minute role in the 2004 FA Cup final victory, the Norwegian missed every United game between draws with Chelsea in May 2004 and Birmingham in our final game of 2005.

Solskjaer sat out much of the first half of 2006 too, but scored 11 goals in 32 games in his last Reds season and claimed a sixth Premier League title.

Honourable mentions too, for Roy Keane, a driving force behind the Treble after nearly a year out between 1997 and 1998, and Ronny Johnsen - the centre-back's first appearance after the 1999 Champions League final came when we clinched the 1999/2000 title at Southampton.

This meant the Norwegian had played in four successive trophy-deciding games for United!

Of course, long absences aren’t always just down to injury.

Two Reds faced lengthy lay-offs for disciplinary reasons, with Eric Cantona handed an eight-month ban in 1995 for kicking a Crystal Palace supporter.

Eric returned to action in the grand manner, equalising from the penalty spot to secure a 2-2 draw against arch-rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford, and was the most important player as we won a second Double in three years.

Welcome back, no.7: Cantona in 1995 article

How will Ronaldo's homecoming compare to the white-hot atmosphere of Eric's return after suspension?

And Rio Ferdinand also returned from a significant ban against the Merseysiders.

The centre-back was suspended for eight months by the FA in January 2004 for failing to attend a drugs test and was sorely missed as United lost the title to Arsenal.

Rio came back in September 2004, helping the Reds to a 2-1 victory over Liverpool, although it was fellow defender Mikael Silvestre who stole the headlines that night with a rare brace.

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