This week has been a great time for footballing debutantes, with David Moyes marking his first game as Manchester United manager with a trophy, not to mention Rickie Lambert scoring on his England debut with his first touch, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Roberto Soldado netting on their Premier League debuts, or Simon Mignolet saving a late penalty (pictured) to seal a win on his first appearance for Liverpool. These noteworthy initial showings have inspired us to put together a list of the five most memorable debut performances in football…
Top Five Memorable Debut Performances
August 1994: Jürgen Klinsmann
In the summer of 1994, Tottenham Hotspur signed one of the best strikers in world football in the form of Germany’s Jürgen Klinsmann, but for all of his undoubted talents, the £2 million signing came with a reputation as a bit of a cheat, sparked mostly by his infamous dive in the 1990 World Cup against Argentina.
Upon the team’s arrival at Hillsborough for the opening match of the season against Sheffield Wednesday, Klinsmann and the Spurs team were greeted by local supporters brandishing score cards, as might be seen at Olympic diving contests. Taking it all in the right spirit, the Spurs players jokingly suggested that if Klinsmann were to score on his debut in English football, the team should all celebrate by performing an exaggerated dive. The German duly headed his side into a 4-2 lead and sprinted away to join his team mates to perform the self-deprecating but truly memorable celebration.
August 1996: Fabrizio Ravanelli
Big spending Middlesbrough forked out £7 million for the services of Champions League winning striker Fabrizio Ravanelli, who would only stay in the Premier League for one season as Bryan Robson worked his, erm, magic to guide Boro to both cup finals (winning neither) as well as relegation, all in the same season. But despite the unhappy ending, things had actually got off to a fairytale start for the man known as the ‘White Feather”.
During the opening match of the 1996/97 season – Ravanelli’s Middlesbrough debut – visiting side Liverpool took the lead three times only for Ravanelli to pull the home side level every time, earning his side an opening day point and firing his way to hero status on Teeside. This was the first (and the second, and the third) time that the Premier League would be treated to the Italian’s famous ‘shirt over the head’ celebration, which would be imitated by children in parks and playgrounds everywhere.
November 1996: Ali Dia
The problem was that the whole story was made up. Dia was no relation to Weah and the whole thing was a scam (a hilarious one, but a scam nonetheless). 32 minutes into the game against Leeds, Matthew Le Tissier came off and Dia was introduced to the action. He ran around like a headless chicken for about twenty minutes, displaying a frightening lack of talent in the process, before Souness hauled him back off the pitch, never to play for the club again. The Saints lost 2-0, Dia’s contract was terminated and the match passed into football folklore for one of the most comical debut performances ever seen.
September 2004: Wayne Rooney
Having just moved to Old Trafford from Everton for £25.6 million at the tender age of 18 – the highest fee ever paid for a player under 20 years old (at the time) – Rooney had to wait a little while to make his Manchester United debut due to an injury picked up during Euro 2004, but it was certainly a debut worth waiting for.
Fenerbahçe came to Manchester for a Champions League tie and Rooney showed no signs of rustiness after the injury, inspiring his new team mates and basically running the show. The debutante put on an assist for David Bellion after knocking in a sublime hat-trick, which was capped off by a delicious free-kick. The final score was 6-2 and Rooney was an instant hit with the Old Trafford faithful.
September 2005: Jonathan Woodgate
It’s hard to believe looking back, but Real Madrid once paid £13.4 million for the services of Jonathan Woodgate, despite the fact that the injury prone defender had a torn thigh muscle at the time. It would be over a year before Woodgate was even fit enough to make his debut for the Spanish outfit, but when he did, boy was it memorable.
In possibly the worst ever debut performance by a professional footballer, the ex Leeds and Newcastle player not only fired a spectacular header past his own goalkeeper, but he managed to pick up two yellow cards – and therefore a red – to round off a performance described by the player himself as being “not the best start in the world”; talk about an understatement. Relive the horror in the clip below.
Here are more memorable debut performances that didn’t quite make the final cut:
October 1997: Jason Crowe
The 19 year old full back made his debut as a substitute in the League Cup and left a mark on the match – as well as Birmignham’s Martin O’Connor – after just 33 seconds, when Uriah Rennie produced a red card for a high tackle; a record for the fastest debut sending off in England.
August 1999: Christian Vieri
Inter paid a then record £32 million for the services of Vieri and he began to pay that sizeable fee back after just 16 minutes of his debut against Verona, scoring from ten yards out. He would notch twice more in the second half to wrap up a debut hat-trick, prompting a standing ovation.
October 2008: Chris Iwelumo
The big Wolves striker finally won his first cap for his country in a World Cup Qualifier against Norway. Coming off the bench after 57 minutes, Iwelumo left Hampden Park stunned as he missed an open goal from a couple of yards out. The game would end 0-0.