Numerous players have made their debuts for new clubs so far this season, and most have come and gone without much drama. But nobody wants to see that.
New boys of the future will have to go some way to enjoy more eventful first games than the prize selection of players covered here…
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Having earned the Golden Ball as Argentina’s Under-20s won the FIFA World Youth Championship in 2005, there was plenty of excitement in the air as Lionel Messi prepared to make his debut for the senior Albiceleste side later that year.
Unfortunately for the teenager, though, things didn’t exactly go to plan: the 18-year-old substitute was shown a red card for allegedly elbowing Vilmos Vanczak after the Hungarian defender had tugged at his shirt. “It wasn’t the way I dreamed it would be,” he said afterwards. Nobody knows what's happened to him since.
Warren Barton (England)
Warren Barton’s impressive form for Wimbledon in the 1994/95 season didn’t go unnoticed, and the defender was rewarded with his first England call-up in February of that campaign. It was supposed to be the proudest moment of the right-back’s career, but off-field events conspired to ruin Barton’s big day.
Running out for his debut in a ‘friendly’ with Northern Ireland, Barton and the rest of the game’s participants were forced to leave the pitch before half-time, with the match abandoned after 27 minutes amid a flurry of missile throwing from so-called supporters.
Sol Campbell (Notts County)
Sol Campbell’s move to League Two Notts County in 2009 was one of the most bizarre signings in Football League history. Enticed by the prospect of big names such as "Roberto Carlos and Benjani" following him to the East Midlands, the ex-England international quickly learned things weren’t quite as they seemed at Meadow Lane.
Just four days after a nightmare debut – in which the centre-back misplaced a backpass after four seconds and was responsible for one of Morecambe’s goals in a 2-1 defeat – Campbell’s five-year contract was terminated by mutual discontent.
Graeme Souness (Rangers)
If Souness’s return to Rangers as player-manager in 1986 did anything, it was reassuring everyone that he hadn’t calmed down much during his two-year spell at Sampdoria.
The Gers opened their campaign away to Hibernian and a bad tackle from the Ibrox boss on George McCluskey earned him a straight red card, sparking a huge scuffle between the two sets of players. Rangers lost 2-1 and 21 of the 22 players were booked. Welcome back, Graeme.
Jackie McNamara, Billy Dodds (Scotland)
It remains one of the most farcical episodes in international football history. In 1996, Scotland’s game in Estonia was brought forward to a 3pm kick-off after concerns were raised about the suitability of the Kadriog Stadium’s floodlights. The hosts weren’t impressed with such meddling, so much so that they refused to show up.
Craig Brown’s men – who included debutants Jackie McNamara and Billy Dodds among their number – were forced to kick off regardless, before the final whistle was blown after 11 seconds. Scotland were initially awarded a 3-0 win, but McNamara and Dodds would no doubt have preferred their international bows to be more routine. The game was later replayed... and ended 0-0.
From bad to worse
A popular classic of nightmare debuts, Woodgate’s bow for Real Madrid has gone down in history as an example of how not to make a good first impression with the fans.
His £13.4 million move from Newcastle in 2004 was a head-turner, especially given that he was injured at the time. After a year on the sidelines, Woodgate finally made his long-awaited Bernabeu debut against Athletic Bilbao. And it was a nightmare: the defender scored an own goal before being sent off for a double booking. Nicely done.
Freddie Eastwood (Southend)
Strikers dream of finding the net on their debut for a new club, but Eastwood surely didn't envisage opening his Southend account just 7.7 seconds into his career at Roots Hall. Things got even better for the ex-West Ham forward, who struck twice more to complete a hat-trick against Swansea.
A month later the 21-year-old’s loan was made permanent, in which time (our maths tells us) he could have scored 336,623 goals if he’d kept up his early rate.
Billy O’Rourke (Burnley)
Burnley’s Billy O’Rourke had a debut to forget in 1979. Included in the starting XI for the first time, the goalkeeper’s dream quickly turned to a nightmare as he shipped seven goals in the Clarets’ meeting with QPR. After he left the field in tears, the Burnley Expess took pity on the 19-year-old and blamed defeat on the team’s defenders, even going so far as to name O’Rourke man of the match.
Unfortunately for the teenager, his first ever game came in front of the Match of the Day cameras, which meant the whole country was able to witness his debut to forget.
Gabriel Kadiev (Beitar Jerusalem)
It’s fair to say some were concerned about adverse reactions from supporters after Beitar Jerusalem announced the signing of Gabriel Kadiev – the club’s first ever Muslim player – in February 2013. The timing didn’t help either, with the club’s offices having been destroyed in a fire started by angry fans just two days before the 19-year-old’s arrival.
Yet when the Chechen midfielder entered the pitch in the 80th minute for his first appearance, boos were drowned out by cheers. ‘Violence and racism? Not on our field’ read one banner seen in the stands. Nice.
Lee Yoon-eui (Sangju Sangmu)
It should have been such a happy day. At the age of 24, Lee Yoon-eui was finally going to play his first 90 minutes as a professional footballer, in goal for Korean side Sangju Sangmu. The only problem? He was a full-back.
Sangmu are the team of the military, made up of Korean players undergoing their national service, which means they can’t make any transfers. With no goalkeepers in the squad, the coaching staff trialled various players in the role and eventually settled on Lee, who kept a clean sheet for 45 minutes as his side went 1-0 up. Nerves kicked in thereafter, though, as Sangju conceded three goals and lost in the final minute.
Ronan Le Crom (PSG)
Football managers tend not to be sentimental beings, and for good reason – Ronan Le Crom personifies the dangers of letting your heart rule your head. The goalkeeper, who had previously played just three times in an 11-year spell at Auxerre, was winding down his career as PSG’s third-choice net-minder in 2012/13.
In the final match of that season, Laurent Blanc brought the veteran off the bench for his first appearance, thus ensuring he was eligible for a championship medal. He was back off again 21 minutes later, though, having received a red card for a foul in the box. Should have just said if he hated playing that much.
Jason Crowe (Arsenal)
You're 19 years old. About to make your debut for Arsenal debut off the bench against Birmingham City, in extra time of a 1997 League Cup tie. Time to impress!
Or not. Youngster Jason Crowe flew into a reckless challenge just 33 seconds after coming on, and was promptly dismissed with a straight red – earning him the unwanted honour of receiving the fastest debut sending-off in English football history. It was also his only appearance for the Gunners.
Herman Rulander (Werder Bremen)
“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 conceded seven goals on his Werder Bremen debut in 1981 – one an own goal, scored by our hero himself – before being hauled off.
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. It’s safe to say things didn’t go to plan for the poor shot-stopper (if we can call him that).
Ali Dia (Southampton)
In 1996, Southampton boss Graeme Souness was convinced by someone posing as former Ballon d’Or winner George Weah that Dia was the Liberian great's cousin and had played for PSG. The Scot handed the striker a month-long contract.
He made just one appearances for Saints but it has lived long in the memory. Coming off the bench against Leeds, it quickly became clear that Dia was miles off the standard required and his performance was so laughably bad that he was substituted himself soon after. Unsurprisingly, he was released sharpish.
'John' Hart (Torino)
Joe Hart’s decision to join Torino on loan in 2016 was applauded as a brave move that could give the England goalkeeper the fresh start he so badly needed after falling down the pecking order at Manchester City.
Things got off to an inauspicious start when he was named on the team sheet before his debut against Atalanta as “John Hart”. It only got worse as he flapped at a cross to gift the opener before being sent the wrong way when facing a penalty as Torino fell to a 2-1 defeat.
Chris Iwelumo (Scotland)
A late bloomer, Iwelumo received his Scotland bow at the age of 30 as a substitute in a must-win World Cup qualifying game at home to Norway.
He could have been a hero. All the striker needed to do was tap in the simplest of finishes from point-blank range with the goal gaping and just over half an hour left on the clock, but he somehow sent his finish wide, stunning the Hampden Park crowd.
Henrik Larsson (Celtic)
One of Celtic’s all-time greats, the dreadlocked Swedish striker got off to an inauspicious start for the Glasgow side when he gave the ball away against Hibernian and let Chic Charnley score a winner for the Edinburgh side.
Then, on his European debut, Larsson scored an own goal against Tirol Innsbruck. Thankfully Celtic won that game 6-3 – and the striker went on to score 174 goals for the club.
Stanley Milton (Halifax)
You can tell that Milton had a shocking debut from the fact that it’s still being talked about 85 years on.
The goalkeeper’s bow for Halifax came against Stockport in January 1934, and after letting two past him in the first half, crumbled after the break by shipping another 11 in a 13-0 defeat which remains the heaviest loss in English league history.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Milan)
Zlatan may be a master of promoting his own legend, but even the confident Swede found it hard to find a positive angle from his Milan debut in 2010.
Newly-promoted Cesena were 2-0 up against the Rossoneri by half-time but Ibrahimovic was handed a golden chance to get them back in it with a penalty two minutes from time. He missed from 12 yards, leaving his new side with a humiliating defeat.
Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid)
We know to expect fireworks when Diego Costa takes to the pitch, but his return to La Liga action with Atletico Madrid in 2018 was marked in spectacular fashion even by the former Chelsea man’s standards.
The Spaniard tapped in to put Atleti 2-0 up against Getafe midway through the second half and went charging off into the crowd to celebrate. Given that he’d already been shown a yellow card for elbowing Djene Dakonam, the joyous reaction meant just one thing – a second yellow and an early bath.
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