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Comebacks in sports are awfully hard. So why do stars like Yuvraj Singh do it?

Yuvraj Singh may be returning to cricket for the love of the game. Some other comebacks in sports, however, were sparked off by fascinating reasons

September 10, 2020 / 11:31 AM IST

People were missing 2019 due to coronavirus. Here’s something that will make them feel as if the calendar has turned. Yuvraj Singh is likely to be an active player again, which he last was in 2019.

On September 9, Yuvraj told a cricket website that he has been practicing with and mentoring players in Mohali the last few weeks. He feels in good nick and has been asked by Punjab cricket officials to play for the state. Reportedly, he has written a mail to Sourav Ganguly for his approval.

There is also chatter about the left-hander playing in Australia’s Big Bash League. As per BCCI rules, though, only a retired Indian cricketer can play a foreign league.

In any case, there’s a real chance Yuvraj will be in action again.

Yuvraj’s reasons for returning to the field are conventional. At a time when athletes can play into their mid-40s, thanks to better nutrition and upkeep, Yuvraj, 38, can give it a swing for a couple of seasons. Two, he feels he is playing well.


As Yuvraj revealed his plans, the mind recalled other sporting comebacks. Two cases in particular, because the reasons of the protagonists to stop playing or resume were, let’s say, not something you could easily explain in a letter to Ganguly.

The first instance involves the Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff.

Cryuff’s dazzling performances for Holland and clubs like Ajax and Barcelona made him an icon. The ‘Cryuff turn’ is one of the game’s most artistic innovations. In any list of top-10 great footballers of all time, Johan Cryuff will be front and centre.

Cryuff, however, was vain, and finicky about money, largely due to a tough childhood. He was 12 when his father died. His mother worked as a cleaner. So when he retired, he fell for the lure of a business jackpot and invested millions in a spurious pig and cattle farming scheme. The man behind the idea was his neighbor and an alleged con named Michel Georges Basilevich.

Smart and tactical on the pitch, Cryuff proved gullible off it, at least in this matter. The ‘Basilevich Turn’ left with a large hole in his bank balance.

Cruyff wrote of the sobering experience in his book, “Sometimes you don’t realise how foolish you’re being until someone points out that you’re deluding yourself, then you honestly have to admit your mistake. That you’re not interested in pigs at all.”

So at age 33, he signed up for the new North American Soccer League, alongside Pele and Franz Beckenbauer. Barcelona had also offered him a contract, but Cruyff chose America as it was a new frontier.

"I had lost millions in pig-farming and that was the reason I decided to become a footballer again,” Cruyff said. "It was wrong, a mistake, to quit playing at 31 with the unique talent I possessed. Starting from zero in America, many miles away from my past, was one of the best decisions I made. There I learned how to develop my uncontrolled ambitions, to think as a coach and about sponsorship.”

Former Argentine goalkeeper Carlos Roa is the other story that has to be mentioned in any discussion on sporting absences or comebacks. A devout Seventh Day Adventist, Roa stopped playing at the peak of his powers because he believed the world was going to end in Y2K (year 2000).

Roa even spurned an offer from Manchester United as he believed the apocalypse was looming. He disappeared to a retreat in Argentina to "prepare for the end of the world, in a place where He will provide everything we need.”

A lot of things happened in 2000. Jennifer Lopez wore a certain dress at the Grammys. George W Bush became president. Kaho Na Pyaar Hai was released. But the world did not end.

Roa returned to live among mere mortals and played some more football. But he wasn’t the same goalkeeper anymore.

“I still think that on a spiritual level it was a very good decision,” Roa said in an interview about going AWOL in 1999. “But in sporting terms it wasn’t — because I left football at the best moment of my career. I could have progressed a lot, with great contracts and the possibility of playing in England.”
Akshay Sawai
first published: Sep 10, 2020 11:31 am

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