By Craig Gamble
WHEN Scott Brown announced his retirement from Scotland duties back in August, few could have predicted that the midfielder would be earning his 51st cap for the national team at Wembley on Friday night.
As the Celtic and ex-Scotland skipper prepares to represent the Tartan Army one last time and face the Auld Enemy, we take a look back at five other players who have performed retirement u-turns to come to their country’s aid…
- Lionel Messi
After losing the 2016 Copa America final to Chile on penalties for the second year running, Leo Messi announced his retirement from international football. It was the fourth final heartbreak the Barca star had suffered in an Argentina shirt, and, at just 29-years-old, he’d had enough. However, as soon as just a week later there were already rumours circulating of his return to the national team in Messi’s homeland. Sure enough, after just over a month, a social media campaign, a 50,000 strong street rally and the unveiling of a Messi statue in Buenos Aires, he announced he was changing his mind. The Argentine said: “A lot of things went through my mind on the night of the final and I gave serious thought to quitting, but my love for my country and this shirt is too great.”
- Henrik Larsson
The Swedish striker actually retired from international duties a total of three times. The first decision came after the 2002 World Cup, and was met with both dismay and disappointment in his homeland. In the lead up to Euro 2004, Sweden’s attacking options were limited and calls for Larsson to save the day were increasing. Despite initially sticking to his guns, the former Celtic hit-man agreed to make a comeback, and save the day he did. Larsson scored three goals in four games which fired Sweden to the quarter finals, including a header against Bulgaria which was voted goal of the tournament. He retired from Sweden duties for a second time in 2006 before delighting the Swedish fans by making another spectacular return for Euro 2008. The veteran striker then went on to captain his country before retiring for a third and final time in 2009, having represented Sweden 106 times.
- Roger Milla
Roger Milla’s Cameroon career spanned an incredible 21 years from 1973-1994. But, he had actually retired from international football back in 1987. Three years later, when Milla was juggling part-time football on the African island of Réunion with part-time radio punditry, he received a phone call from the then Cameroon president, Paul Biya. He convinced Milla to change his mind and so, at the ripe old age of 38, off he went to Italia ’90, ready to make history. The veteran striker scored four goals as he led the ‘Indomitable Lions’ to become the first African side to reach the World Cup Quarter Finals. His goals made him the oldest goalscorer at a World Cup and he celebrated each with his now iconic corner flag jig. But, Milla wasn’t finished there. Four years later he was off to the USA for the ’94 World Cup with Cameroon. Despite being knocked out in the group stages, Milla managed to score against Russia, breaking his own record from the previous tournament and he remains the World Cup’s oldest ever goalscorer at 42 years of age.
- Zinedine Zidane
Widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, ‘Zizou’ had retired from France duties after a failed attempt to retain their crown at Euro 2004. He was then one of a trio of players that national team manager Raymond Domenech hauled out of retirement to help save their struggling qualifying campaign for the 2006 World Cup – the others being Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele. With the captain’s armband back on, Zidane led the French all the way to the World Cup Final, which was to be his last game as a professional footballer. During the tournament, he turned in some of the best individual performances ever seen – the pick of the bunch being his man-of-the match display against Brazil in the quarter final – which saw him pick up the Golden Ball award for player of the tournament. In the final itself, Zidane scored a spot kick to put the French ahead but was then sent off for infamously headbutting Italy’s Marco Materazzi in extra time, and France went on to lose 5-3 on penalties. Despite the incident, Zizou is still considered an icon in his homeland, with one French journalist writing: “It’s good for us to see our national hero is fallible.”
Widely regarded as THE greatest player of all time, things could have been oh so different for Pele and Brazil had he decided not to change his mind all those years ago. Going into the 1966 World Cup, Brazil were strong favourites. They were the reigning champs and in Pele, had the best and most famous player in world football. During the tournament however, teams resorted to persistent fouling against the Brazilians, and Pele in particular. They were eliminated in the group stages and the treatment he and his teammates received left such a bitter taste in Pele’s mouth that he vowed never to play at a World Cup again. But, thankfully, he did decide to change his mind. Four years later at the 1970 World Cup, Pele was back. This time nothing could stop a Brazil side many consider as the best there has ever been. In their 4-1 victory over Italy in the final, Pele scored one and set up two, the second being a perfectly weighted pass for Carlos Alberto to score one of the most iconic goals in football history. He retired from international football for good a year later, having scored 77 goals in 91 appearances.