The Worst Footballing Debuts Of All Time

In Football on September 19, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Your club has just forked out its entire transfer kitty on a new superstar signing. After a fairly uneventful pre-season, which means nothing anyway, you see your new hero step on to the pitch for the first time wearing your colours. This is where it matters, this is where the season begins, this is where your team proves it finally has the balance required to make a push for honours. He strides out, imperious, and applauds his new set of fans as he takes his position on the field of play. Then, somehow it all goes horribly wrong, a hideous display of ineptitude that makes you want to strip the replica shirt bearing his name from your back and burn it.

Here’s the worst footballing of all time…

Jonathan Woodgate, Real Madrid

Defensive debuts don’t really get worse than this but it’s especially nightmarish if you take into account how long the fans had to wait to see their inexplicably popular British import represent the club.

After being signed in August 2004 from Newcastle for a then costly £13.4 million it took Woodgate over a year to even make his first appearance for the Spanish giants and when he did the crowd certainly wished he hadn’t.

He opened the scoring with a spectacular own goal putting Athletic Bilbao 1-0 up at the Bernabéu. Desperately trying to atone for this cardinal sin the defender started throwing in some fairly needless challenges and inevitably was sent off after acquiring two yellow cards with twenty five minutes of the game left.

Just to underline how utterly unnecessary to his teams efforts he was, they still managed to win 3-1 despite his contribution. It was only one of nine appearances, memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Ali Dia, Southampton

Not only one of the worst debuts of all time but perhaps the most embarrassing transfer in English football and it’s all thanks to the hardest of the Chuckle Brothers, Graeme Souness.

Then the manager of Southampton, Souness received a phone call from someone claiming to be Liberian legend George Weah. Although the details of the phone call have never entirely been made public, the person who made the call – likely Dia himself – stated that Dia was Weah’s cousin, had been capped by Senegal 13 times and had at one time been on the books for Paris Saint-Germaine. It was all grade A bullshit that Souness bought wholesale.

Thinking he was getting some sort of bargain he immediately picked up Dia on a free transfer and registered him in time for the game against Leeds, seemingly without ever having seen him play or train.

He came on as a substitute, for the great Matthew Le Tissier no less, and was hilariously below Premier League standard. Lacking fitness, pace, touch and passing ability, Souness was left with no other choice but to substitute him later on in the game. Southampton lost 2-0.

Le Tissier would later talk about the embarrassing incident on an interview on Youtube ( where he said “it was unbelievable. He ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice; it was very, very embarrassing to watch.”

The 22 minutes live on in infamy and left Souness’s credibility in tatters. Things didn’t get much better for the player either, who went on to play a few games for non-league team Gateshead before they too deemed him not up to standard. Dia by name, dire by nature.

Mike Salmon, Oxford United

OK, keepers do have a tough time of it. We all know that. Every mistake is highlighted because it usually leads to a goal or looks so hilariously bad that even someone as inherently laughable as Mark Lawrenson can feel safe to criticise it. Still, to play only one game and be voted the club’s worst ever player in a magazine poll? That takes some spectacular kind of ineptitude.

And indeed it was. Salmon, looking every bit the proverbial fish out of water, made his debut the day after signing on loan for the club against Birmingham City. Straight in the starting line-up he put on a display so wretched that it contributed to what still remains Oxford’s largest defeat as they were mauled 7-1 at the hands of the blues.

Salmon is now the goalkeeping coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS league.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, AC Milan

When Milan managed to secure the loan of a player that was coveted by top European clubs and had already played for the world’s best, they believed it was something of a coup, a move that would alter their fortunes in the league and rejuvenate their aging squad.

His debut was against the comparative minnows and Serie-A debutants of Cesena. A quiet first half from the Rossoneri somehow saw the underdogs 2-0 up at half time, with Ibrahimovic having rarely threatened the opponent’s goal.

Still, on they plodded and in the 88th minute Milan were awarded a penalty for a clumsy challenge in the box. Up steps their newly acquired £60 million rated striker to set up a barnstorming finish… Except he missed the penalty and Milan lost the game.

This debut didn’t stop the club making the move permanent at the start of this season.

Wayne Bridge, West Ham

Bridge had been in the newspapers for all the wrong reasons prior to his move to West Ham. The player that will likely be remembered for little else except bringing the “bro code” to professional football.

West Ham fans might remember him for something a little bit different with what is likely to go down in history as the worst defensive debut the Premier League has seen and is likely to see. In a game where West Ham lost 3-0 it was the debutant that was to blame for all three of the goals they conceded.

The first goal was bad but perhaps forgivable for a player starved of first team football at Man City. Failure to get anywhere near the pacey Theo Walcott allowed the winger to whip in a cross for an Arsenal lead. Just before half time his leaden legs struck again when he failed to move as Van Persie cut a ball back from the byline returning the favour for Walcott.

The most catastrophic of his errors came in the 77th minute where, again skinned for pace by Walcott, he tackled the player from behind and gave away a penalty. He was hauled off in the last minute of the game but the damage was done. West Ham fans looked aghast, even more so when it was revealed in the papers he was allegedly being paid £90,000 a week.

Henrik Larsson, Celtic

It might seem amazing to think that any Celtic fan could have anything bad to say about the hoops legend but after his debut many were left shaking their heads thinking they had acquired yet another dodgy foreign import.

Coming on as a late substitute against Hibernian with the game tied at 1-1 the man who would become Celtic’s top scorer of all time made the decisive play of the match… By passing to Hibs midfielder Chic Charnely who scored to award the game to his side. His European debut wasn’t much better, scoring an own goal against Tirol Innsbruck in a macth Celtic won 6-3.

Still, his quality came to the forefront as the season progressed, banging in eighteen goals in all competitions and laying the foundations for what would be a glittering career with the club. Proof that debuts aren’t always the best indicator of whether or not your team has bought a lemon.


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