Rarely is it an unmitigated success, yet there seems to be no shortage of former stars attempting it. What is this invisible magnet that draws retired sportspeople to return to the competitive arena?
The most recent high-profile comeback was that of Ricky Hatton who, on Saturday, stepped into the boxing ring after an absence of three and a half years. Hatton believed this was his chance for redemption and an opportunity to make his friends and supporters proud.
Instead, he suffered a ninth-round knockout defeat to the Ukrainian Vyacheslav Senchenko which prompted him to retire again, this time for good, he says. Which leads to an obvious question: why make a comeback in the first instance?
Why can't people settle contentedly into life after professional sport? I retired a mere five weeks ago so, admittedly, not having a rigid training and competition schedule to adhere to is still a novelty. Never say never, but I cannot imagine going back to the life of a full-time athlete. While being a professional sportsman or woman is a dream job, it is a commitment that surpasses that required of most professions. I am still in the honeymoon period of retirement, but it is a delight to be able to enjoy the advantages of it. Waking up every morning pain free, not having to be careful about everything I eat for fear of putting on a pound or two, and not having to push my body in training until I feel sick are just a few of the benefits. In short, the chance to have a normal life for the first time.
Hatton suffered from depression and substance abuse after first hanging up his gloves in 2009. While he is an extreme case, it is not uncommon for sportspeople to struggle to adjust to life after sport. After a lifetime of training full-time and having laser-like focus on your athletic goals, retirement ends that in the blink of an eye. Many athletes find it hard to fill the gaping hole that appears in their life when the intense training regime is removed.
It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a vocation as fulfilling as that of a full-time athlete. It's a fair assumption that every athlete who makes a comeback does so in the belief that it's going to be successful. While an unfaltering self-belief is a vital attribute to have when you are competing, it can be dangerous when it fuels the desire to return to competition.
Hatton, of course, was following in the footsteps of such sporting legends as Ian Thorpe and Michael Schumacher, both of whom failed to come close to the dizzy heights they reached the first time around.
Jonah Lomu, Mike Tyson, Martina Hingis . . . you don't have to search too hard to find a tale illustrating a failed comeback. In the case of Schumacher, his appears to have been a complete disaster. The seven-time world champion was regarded as the best Formula One driver the world had ever seen when he announced his retirement in 2006.
He came back to race for Mercedes in 2010 but has languished in the middle of the field for the last three season, a place he rarely frequented first time around. Not all comebacks fail, of course. Kim Clijsters' second career far surpassed her initial achievements and athletes such as Michael Jordan have enhanced their reputation on their return.
Hatton insists that post- comeback he is now a "happy man" and he has all the answers that he needs. Maybe so, but I have yet to be convinced that a comeback is an attractive proposition.