Not hanging about
You can, and arguably should, forgive players for not making an instant impact in the Premier League.
Sometimes footballers need time to adjust to a new club, culture or style of play before they can express themselves on the pitch, but the following dozen were left wondering what all the fuss was about after instantly tearing up England’s top flight.
From goalscoring machines to defensive rocks, flying keepers to midfield dynamos, these stars didn’t take long to find their feet.
12. Diego Costa (Chelsea, 2014/15)
Costa didn’t make many friends at Chelsea, but the Spain striker got off to a spectacular start in the Premier League with seven goals in his opening four games.
He finished his first season in England with 20 league goals to his name, in addition to scoring in the League Cup final that helped the Blues add a domestic trophy to their league title.
Costa’s arrival helped breathe new life into a struggling Chelsea side and, despite his run-ins with FA on several occasions, he returned to Atletico Madrid in January 2018 with an impressive ratio of 52 goals in 89 Premier League games for the club.
11. Fernando Torres (Liverpool, 2007/08)
Given what has happened more recently in his career, it could be easy to forget the impact Torres made on his arrival in English football.
El Nino set a record for the most prolific debut season for a foreign player in the Premier League with 24 goals in 29 starts for Liverpool, bettering Ruud van Nistelrooy’s tally in his first campaign with Manchester United.
The Spaniard also matched Roger Hunt’s club record by scoring in eight consecutive home games, and became the first Reds player since Robbie Fowler more than a decade before to hit 20 league goals. If that wasn’t enough, he became the first man in 60 years to net back-to-back home hat-tricks in the league, then finished third in the Ballon d’Or voting of 2008 after helping Spain win the Euros.
10. Benni McCarthy (Blackburn, 2006/07)
Well-travelled South Africa international McCarthy arrived at Blackburn in 2006 having been a part of Jose Mourinho’s Champions League-winning Porto team two years earlier.
However, not much was expected of him after a drop in form thereafter. It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when McCarthy made an immediate impact by scoring four goals by the end of September and continuing that form to end up with 18 in his debut campaign.
His partnership with Shabani Nonda helped fire Rovers to a 10th-placed finish under Mark Hughes, while he also scored three en route to the FA Cup semi-finals and another three in the UEFA Cup.
9. Jurgen Klinsmann (Tottenham, 1994/95)
A World Cup winner with Germany, Klinsmann arrived at Spurs from Monaco four years after that feat. He found the net on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday too, before racking up seven goals in his first six Premier League appearances.
'Klinsi' finished the season with 21 league goals, 30 in all competitions, and was named FWA Footballer of the Year for his effort. That was enough for Bayern Munich to bring him home, but he eventually returned to White Hart Lane on loan for the second half of the 1997/98 season, picking up where he’d left off with nine goals in 15 league games to help Spurs avoid the drop.
8. Jens Lehmann (Arsenal, 2003/04)
Lehmann was handed the unenviable task of replacing David Seaman when he arrived at Arsenal in 2003, after the England goalkeeper had departed following a trophy-laden spell at Highbury.
The pony-tailed net-minder was soon a distant memory, though, as Lehmann excelled in 54 appearances across his debut season, helping the club to an unprecedented unbeaten league season and conceding just 26 goals in the process.
The German stayed at Arsenal for five seasons, helping them to an FA Cup, but his spell was clouded by the red card he received in their 2006 Champions League Final defeat to Barcelona.
7. Ruud van Nistelrooy (Manchester United, 2001/02)
A ruptured ACL delayed Van Nistelrooy’s arrival at Old Trafford by a year, but there was no sign of a post-injury slump when he finally pulled on a United shirt – he scored twice on his league debut and 23 Premier League goals in total.
Additionally, he bagged 10 goals in the Champions League as Alex Ferguson’s side went on a run to the semi-finals – contributing to 36 in all competitions.
Incredibly, the Dutchman only got better from there: he netted 25 league goals the following campaign to fire the Red Devils to their eighth league title in 11 seasons. Sadly, it was to be his only one at the club.
6. Gianfranco Zola (Chelsea, 1996/97)
Zola made an instant impact in English football, winning FWA Footballer of the Year in his first season despite only arriving from Parma in November. No surprise, really: he helped Chelsea to their first trophy since 1970 by lifting the FA Cup.
Four of the Italian’s 12 debut season goals came during that cup run, and his signing is now seen as an important factor in the club’s renaissance which eventually led to Roman Abramovich buying the club in 2003.
In his second season, Zola scored against Tromso, Real Betis and Vicenza as Chelsea won the Cup Winners’ Cup, having already triumphed in the League Cup earlier that campaign. As Claudio Ranieri put it: “Gianfranco tries everything because he is a wizard, and a wizard must try.”
5. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City, 2011/12)
Manchester City’s transformation was already up and running before Aguero arrived in 2011 – the Argentine’s £35 million signing was announced two months after they'd ended a wait of more than 30 years for a trophy by lifting the FA Cup.
Aguero needed less than nine minutes to score his first Premier League goal after coming off the bench against Swansea, and by the time that game had ended, he had two goals and an assist to his name.
The striker ended his first year in England with 23 league goals, including an iconic injury-time winner against QPR on the final day of the season that secured City’s first league title since 1968 – and his immediate status as a club legend.
4. Kevin Phillips (Sunderland, 1999/00)
Phillips joined Sunderland after they were relegated from the Premier League in 1997 and scored 60 goals over two seasons to help them return to the top flight at the second attempt.
Black Cats fans were expecting good things from the striker, but few anticipated the impact he'd make. Phillips was devastating, and became the first English player to win the European Golden Shoe after notching 30 league goals as Sunderland finished seventh.
It was the most successful season of his career, and to this day only Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Mo Salah have netted more goals in a single Premier League season.
3. Jaap Stam (Manchester United, 1998/99)
Manchester United’s Dutch giant won three league titles in three seasons at Manchester United, including a superb debut campaign where they clinched the Treble with a late comeback against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.
Stam was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year after one year in English football, as well as winning the UEFA Club Best Defender of the Year award. It was probably no coincidence that the only trophy the Red Devils didn’t win that season, the League Cup, was the only one Stam didn’t feature in.
He was eventually sold to Lazio in 2001 after Fergie took exception to his autobiography, but the Scot later admitted he'd made a mistake.
2. Michu (Swansea, 2012/13)
Michu arrived in Wales for just £2 million in summer 2012 to little fanfare, but he soon embarked on one of the most memorable debut seasons the Premier League has ever seen.
He started with two goals and an assist on his league debut against QPR, and his impact didn't diminish: he went on to score 22 times in all competitions, including 18 in the league and one in a 5-0 victory over Bradford City at Wembley where the Swans won their first ever League Cup.
Sadly, within three years the Spaniard was plying his trade in the fourth tier of Spanish football after struggling with a recurring ankle problems, and he was eventually forced to retire aged 31.
1. N’Golo Kante (Leicester, 2015/16)
Kante was a relative unknown when he pitched up at the King Power Stadium from Caen in 2015 for just £5.5 million, but everything about the season that followed was extraordinary.
The Frenchman got to work dismantling every team in the division en route to Leicester’s staggering Premier League, earning himself a PFA Team of the Year place in the process. Former Foxes scout Steve Walsh summarised it best in noting: “We play Drinkwater in the middle and Kante either side.”
Kane became just the second outfield player to win the Premier League title with two different clubs in consecutive seasons when he moved to Chelsea, clinching the PFA Player of the Year, Premier League Player of the Season and FWA Footballer of the Year awards in the process. Then came a World Cup win with France. What can’t he do?
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