Paul Pogba, Manchester United debut

10 of the most spectacular debuts: Elbows, own-goals and no-shows

Paul Pogba does it all over again for Manchester United tonight – but few beginnings are as explosive as these 10, as Louis Massarella explains

1. Don’t cry for the Flea, Argentina

“It wasn’t the way I dreamed it would be.” No s***, Lionel. Messi exited the international stage just 47 seconds after making his senior bow in 2005. The 18-year-old substitute was shown the red card for allegedly elbowing Vilmos Vanczak after the Hungarian defender had tugged the Flea’s shirt. Little is known of what’s happened to the Argentine, except that he’s never been sent off since. He must have disappeared into obscurity. 

2. Rioting ruins Barton’s big day

Warren Barton’s international debut lasted longer – but not much longer. England’s ‘friendly’ against the Republic of Ireland was supposed to be the Wimbledon right-back’s proudest moment – 20 members of his family had gone to Dublin to watch – but the match was abandoned after 27 minutes amid a flurry of missile throwing from so-called fans. Barton’s chance to impress ahead of Euro 96 was gone and he failed to make the squad. Thanks, guys. 

3. Oh power of Tallin, when will we see your lights again?

At least Barton was awarded a cap. No such reward for supposed debutants Jackie McNamara and Billy Dodds in 1996, following one of the most farcical episodes in international football history. After Scotland’s game in Estonia was switched from an evening kick-off to 3pm over concerns about the Kadriog Stadium floodlights, the home team staged a no-show in protest. Craig Brown’s men kicked off regardless, 11 seconds later the final whistle was blown and Scotland were awarded a 3-0 win. A winning start for Dodds and McNamara – or so they thought. FIFA ordered a rematch at a neutral venue, which ended 0-0.

4. Seven reasons to sack your goalkeeper

“I need more time and experience. Maybe next time.” Unfortunately for Herman Rulander, there wouldn’t be a next time. Standing in for injured Dieter Burdenski against Eintracht Frankfurt, the 21-year-old keeper let in seven goals on his Werder Bremen debut in 1981 – one an own goal, scored by our hero himself – before being substituted by Otto Rehhagel. Two weeks later, he was given a cheque for 50,000 Deutschmarks (about £11,000 then; about £37,000 now) and asked never to darken Werder's dressing room again.

Rehhagel: "Get your gloves on, Rudi"

"I don't care if you didn't bring gloves, mate"

5. Burnley’s Billy the Kid let off the hook

Not every debutant keeper is treated so harshly when he ships seven. In fact, after Burnley’s Billy O’Rourke left the pitch in tears after doing just that against QPR in 1979, the Burnley Express took pity on the 19-year-old and named him man of the match, instead blaming the defenders. Bless.

Luckily for posterity, if not for Billy, his big day was in front of the Match of the Day cameras. Note how Barry Davies slides into benign paternalistic despair as Burnley collapse – and see how much a young Glenn Roeder unselfconsciously delights in scoring that vital seventh goal. 


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