Ah, the question asked in every transfer window for the last 12 years.
Ever since North End sold David Nugent to Portsmouth in 2007, fans have been discussing a return. A £100,000 signing from Bury in January 2005, Nugent was one of the great success stories of the modern era at Deepdale.
Signed as a teenager, Nugent was a punt. Billy Davies brought him in as competition for Patrick Agyemang and Richard Cresswell in the North End. What he actually signed was a superstar he could barely hold back.
Within weeks of signing, Nugent was a starter. He’d dislodged Agyemang from the side, and played in the Championship playoff final against West Ham United. Promotion evaded North End and Nugent, but eight goals in 18 games had made Nugent an overnight sensation.
From wearing the bowler hat at Watford away, to the ridiculous solo goal at Leeds after his return from injury, Nugent will go down as a Preston hero. That may seem bizarre to Premier League fans who saw him struggle afterwards, but he really was a phenomenon at Deepdale.
By the end of his time at Deepdale, Nugent had hit 37 goals in 107 games. He’d even scored for England whilst playing for North End in the Championship. It was inevitable that he’d move on, but he went to Portsmouth with fans clinging on to dreams of a return.
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Here we are now, in 2019, and Nugent hasn’t come ‘home’. He’s had spells with Burnley, Leicester City, Middlesbrough and Derby County, basically becoming the most ‘Championship’ of Championship strikers. In 12 years, it’s never really felt like North End have got close to re-signing Nugent. The Mirror claimed in 2008 that we had a loan bid rejected, and that’s basically as far as it’s gone.
The last chance
There may be a final window of opportunity this summer though. Nugent’s Derby contract expires this summer, and at almost 34, he may well move on for free. Alex Neil has admitted he wants a bit more experience, so the calls for Nugent to return may come once again.
Now, it’s fair to say that Nugent is far from the player he once was. He’s scored just two goals this season, and he’s certainly lost the pace that made him such a threat at North End.
Yet North End aren’t exactly blessed with great striking options. Louis Moult’s future is unclear and Seani Maguire has looked like a shadow of his former self. With Nugent able to play as a number 10 at this late stage in his career too, he could still offer something. He has that Championship know-how Neil may want in a young side, and has a couple of promotions on his CV.
This is more of a ‘heart over head’ move though. Any other 34-year-old striker scoring two goals this season wouldn’t be given a second look. With Nugent, things will always be different, but this really is the last chance for a possible return.
North End currently seem more likely to try and find the next Nugent, rather than bring the original back. Neil wants experience though, and Nugent does tick some boxes in that regard, especially for free.
It’s a topic that will divide fans, but one thing is for sure. The club would be doing it all wrong if they signed him, and didn’t announce it on a Friday…