Ranked! Football’s 10 worst-ever DEBUTS

Ranked! Football’s 10 worst-ever DEBUTS

Ranked! Football's 10 worst-ever debuts

(Image credit: Future)

You can take Joao Felix away from Diego Simeone… but you can’t take Simeone’s influence away from Felix.

After looking lively in his Chelsea debut away to Fulham, the Blues’ loan star received a straight red card that even his manager didn’t bother making excuses for. He’s now banned for three games – and that’s a good couple of million pounds from his loan fee straight down the drain.

Still, Felix’s bow in English football is nothing compared to these Hall of Shame debuts. Prepare for tears, scams, elbows, Garry Flitcroft and keepers in goal…

10. Ali Dia

Ali Dia didn’t really have a football career so much as a scam. But he still sneaks onto this list by chance among more esteemed horror shows – it’s what he would’ve wanted.

You know the tale, by now: a Senegalese hustler and his mate somehow fooled a Premier League club into signing him on the basis of him being a Ballon d’Or winner’s blood relation – and a manager who’s since made a life analysing other teams’ foibles on Sky Sports gave him half an hour of top-level football. It’s one part Goal!, two parts Fonejacker.

Dia later maintained that despite his sole performance being arguably the worst in Prem history, he had recently scored for Senegal in a 3-1 1998 World Cup qualifying win over Guinea (Senegal had already been knocked out in the first round of qualifying). And people wonder what turned Matt Le Tissier into a conspiracy theorist.

9. Lionel Messi

“It wasn’t the way I dreamed it would be.” Well, no sh*t, Lionel.

It’s easily forgotten that 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. He must have disappeared into obscurity.

GOAL on X: "Lionel Messi made his Barcelona debut 18 years ago today. We  still have to pinch ourselves seeing him in a different kit.  https://t.co/g4OdtImaiA" / X

8. Garry Flitcroft

Garry Flintcroft of Blackburn Rovers in action during the FA Carling Premiership match against West Ham played at Ewood Park in Blackburn, England. Blakburn Rovers won the game 3-0.

(Image credit: Allsport UK /Allsport)

Garry Flitcroft played over 250 times for Blackburn Rovers and ended up captaining the club. The third minute of his Rovers career was the most touch-and-go of the lot.

It’s one thing to be sent off that soon into your opening game. It’s quite another to be sent off for an elbow to Duncan “Disorderly” Ferguson. Flitty somehow lived to tell the tale but was probably looking over his shoulder for the rest of his playing career.

7. Warren Barton

Warren Barton’s international debut lasted longer than Messi’s – but not much. 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.

An Interview With: Warren Barton - Coming Home Newcastle

6. Jackie McNamara and Billy Dodds

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.

Billy DODDS - Scottish Premier Appearances - Rangers FC

5. Herman Rulander

“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.

4. Billy O’Rourke

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.

3. Ronan Le Crom

Twice the age of Billy O’Rourke but just as likely to blub, Ronan Le Crom personifies the dangers of sentiment. His was an unspectacular career: he spent 11 years at Auxerre, playing just three games, before a wandering decade representing six French clubs.

At 38, he was the third-choice goalkeeper for PSG, and with his retirement imminent, he came off the bench in the final game of 2012/13 at Lorient to ensure he was eligible for a championship medal. Just 21 minutes later he was back off again, red-carded into retirement. Not that it mattered much: although makeshift goalkeeper Mamadou Sakho couldn’t save the penalty, PSG held on for a 3-1 win.

Profile of R. Le Crom, : Info, news, matches and statistics | BeSoccer

2. “Right, who fancies going in nets?”

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 one problem? He was a full-back.

Sangmu are the team of the military, made up of Korean players undergoing their national service. That presumably guarantees a certain level of organisation, fitness and camaraderie; sadly for Lee, it also means they can’t make any transfers, even when their goalkeepers are unavailable.

Lee wasn’t even the first-choice outfielder: he was the fourth to be tested between the sticks. Even so, he kept a clean sheet for 45 minutes and the army side went in 1-0 up – but in the second half the nerves kicked in, he conceded three and Sangju lost in the final minute. Disney have yet to announce a film adaptation.

1. Jonathan Woodgate

Jonathan Woodgate

The debut to which all other debuts are measured against. The classic of the genre: if it were a physical object, it would be on show at an art gallery, let alone a museum. It’s the golden standard of first days at the office. The one, the only. The Woodgate.

Super Jonathan took to the Bernabeu 17 months after arriving, thanks to injury but left after just 66 minutes, having produced a legendary performance for all the wrong reasons. A comical own goal was followed by two of the most needless yellow cards you could ever imagine, putting the Teessider’s Galacticos bow in the history books.

He was a phenomenal defender: if not for injury, he could have been an England legend. The Ant to Ledley King’s Dec, if you will. But tell kids today how good Woodgate was as a player and they just won’t believe you. All because of this hour of horror.

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