10 superb stand-ins who came into their side and shone unexpectedly
1. Trevor Francis (Nottingham Forest, 1979)
“Trevor wasn’t eligible until the later stages of the European Cup,” explained Forest manager Brian Clough, “but I took him along to the games anyway, and he made the lads tea at half-time.” Clough was always loathed to change a winning team, but niggling injuries to both Archie Gemmill and Martin O’Neill saw Britain’s most expensive footballer finally make his European debut in the Forest side which took on Malmo in the 1979 European Cup Final in Munich.
It was a dour match, save for one moment of pure quality. Portly Scottish winger John Robertson put in a peach of a cross from the left wing, and Francis dived to head the winner, tumbling onto the stadium’s shot-put circle as he did so. The million pound man had made his mark on the grandest stage of all.
2. Christopher Wreh (Arsenal, 1998)
Aside from the fact that he was George Weah’s cousin, reserve striker Christopher Wreh’s Arsenal career appeared to be heading nowhere as the Gunners reached the business end of the 1997/98 campaign.
Yet in the midst of an injury and suspension crisis which featured Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp missing matches, the young striker burst onto the scene with explosive winners against Bolton and Wimbledon in tense 1-0 victories. For good measure, Wreh also netted the winner against Wolves in the FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park as Arsenal closed in on the domestic Double. Wreh quickly faded from the scene, but his six-week golden spell in spring 1998 – and trademark somersault celebration – is still fondly remembered by Arsenal fans.
3. Les Sealey (Man United, 1990)
Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson and goalkeeper Jim Leighton, who’d played under Fergie for many years at Aberdeen, appeared attached at the hip. But the Scottish stopper’s increasingly nervous displays between the sticks meant rumours began to circulate that Leighton would be sold in the 1990 close season.
Leighton’s form finally imploded during the 1990 FA Cup Final against Crystal Palace, which ended 3-3, and Ferguson axed him for the replay. In came reserve goalie Les Sealey, who’d played barely a handful of games during United’s dreadful league season in which they’d tailed in at 13th.
Sealey, though, kept out Palace’s forward duo of Ian Wright and Mark Bright in the replay, as Fergie won his first trophy at Old Trafford. The flamboyant shot-stopper – who gave Leighton his winner's medal after the game (before eventually realising he would have got one anyway) – even won the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following year, before being replaced by the even mouthier Peter Schmeichel.
4. Ryan Bertrand (Chelsea, 2012)
Chelsea’s incredible upset of Barcelona in the semi-finals of the 2011/12 Champions League came at a cost of more than just Gary Neville’s vocal cords. The Blues went to the final without the suspended John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles and Ramires, while Florent Malouda was only fit enough for the bench.
The end result of an inevitable selection shake-up was full-back Ryan Bertrand making his first ever Champions League appearance, in the final against Bayern Munich on their own turf, while playing out of position on the left wing.
The 22-year-old acquitted himself admirably as he aided Ashley Cole in stopping the twin threats of Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm, before being substituted with a knock in the 73rd minute. Bayern scored 10 minutes after Bertrand’s departure, but Didier Drogba’s late header sent the game to extra time and the Blues memorably triumphed on penalties.
5. Roger Milla (Cameroon, 1990)
The ancient Cameroon forward didn’t actually start any games at Italia ’90, but confirmed his legendary status as the ultimate World Cup super-sub. It began with two goals in his team’s 2-1 group win against Romania, before Milla scored another double in the last-16 victory against Colombia - where he famously robbed the ball from keeper Rene Higuita, slotted it into the net and performed his famous jig around the corner flag in celebration.
Cameroon eventually crashed out in the quarter-final against England, but not before Milla had set up Eugene Ekeke to give his team a shock 2-1 lead.