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Henry's dream comeback bucks the usual trend

Arsenal's former player and new loan signing Thierry Henry blows a kiss to the fans as he celebrates on the final whistle after scoring the winning goal on his first game back during the English FA Cup.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Many aging sportsmen have been unable to resist the lure of a comeback but few have returned as spectacularly as Thierry Henry did with Arsenal at the ground where only last month he was immortalized with a bronze statue for his achievements.

The 34-year-old Frenchman, back in an Arsenal shirt for the first time in nearly five years, scored 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute against Leeds United in the FA Cup on Monday with what proved to be the only goal of a dogged third round tie.

Manager Arsene Wenger described it as "a dream" and for Arsenal fans and all true romantics who love sporting improbablities and drama it really was a magical moment.

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Henry, who left Arsenal in 2007 as their all-time leading scorer with 226 goals from 370 appearances, made it 227 from a somewhat special 371st appearance.

Back with the Londoners on a short-term loan deal during the close-season of the Major League Soccer where he is seeing out the twilight of his career with the New York Red Bulls, Henry was rather excited too.

"I never thought I was going to play for Arsenal again or score a winner. I simply love this club and I hope I can do more.

"I hope it won't be the last one. The feeling I had when I scored was amazing," he said.

Wenger added: "He was already a legend here but he added just a little bit more to the whole story with that goal.

"It was a little bit like a dream. It was a story you would tell young kids if you want to tell them a story about football. "Unfortunately it doesn't often happen like that in our game, but it did tonight."

Henry's return followed that of Paul Scholes's winning comeback with Manchester United in Sunday's FA Cup tie at Manchester City after he announced his retirement as a player at the end of last season.

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Like Henry, Scholes, 37, has benefited from years of having the best training methods, well-balanced and supervised diets and advanced medical treatment and after keeping fit with United's reserves since last summer, also looked like he had never been away.

However, many still say you should never go back and sport is littered with players who tarnished their reputations by ignoring that maxim.

Some did succeed -- Ian Rush was just as successful in his second eight-year spell at Liverpool as in his first seven years there after one poor season at Juventus sandwiched in the middle.

Juergen Klinsmann also had two spells at Tottenham Hotspur and is revered at that club while the Brazilian midfielder Juninho enjoyed three hugely successful spells at Middlesbrough.

Jockey Lester Piggott also made a winning return to the saddle as a 54-year-old in 1990, five years after his last ride which included a year and a day in prison for tax fraud.

Other sportsmen have returned after illness or injury and achieved stunning wins: Niki Lauda won the 1977 Formula One world title after suffering severe injuries and falling into a coma after a dreadful crash at the German Grand Prix the previous year.

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Lance Armstrong defied testicular cancer to win the Tour de France seven times while Croat Goran Ivanisevic was on the verge of retiring before changing his mind to win the Wimbledon singles title as a wild card entry in 2001.

But as a guide those who retire, should stay retired and remember another old sporting adage: the older you get the better you used to be.

Tennis player Bjorn Borg, racing driver Michael Schumacher and Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz have all attempted comebacks in the past and all failed to again find the magic that made them such worldbeaters.

Sweden's Borg is one of tennis's greatest players, who won 11 grand slam titles including five successive Wimbledons before retiring in 1983 aged 26.

He attempted a return to the circuit in 1991 with his old-fashioned wooden racket and failed to win anything before calling it a day two years later.

American swimmer Spitz had an even bigger splashdown. As a 22-year-old he set an Olympic record with seven golds at a single Games in Munich in 1972 before quitting -- only to return 20 years later, unsurprisingly failing to make the U.S. team for the Barcelona Games.

Another big fall from grace involves Michael Schumacher who won seven Formula One titles and is regarded as one of the greatest drivers ever. He decided to return to the circuit at the age of 41 in 2010, and has been riding in the slipstream of faster, younger drivers, ever since.

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