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The 10 Very Worst Debuts in Football History

What are the worst debuts in the history of football? Check out our selection and learn more about which players made a horrible impression in their first game for their new club or country. Even Leo Messi made it to our list..

1. Gervinho (Arsenal Vs. Newcastle United)

The Ivorian winger moved from Ligue 1 outfit LOSC Lille to join Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in the summer of 2011. The forward boasted an impressive 15 goals from 31 appearances as well as the French domestic championship. Arsenal took on minnows Newcastle United without their starlets Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, so the stage looked to be set for Gervinho to make a big impression on the Gunners’ faithful on his debut. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a horror show for the £11 million recruit. With the game headed for a stalemate, Toon midfielder Joey Barton started a war of words Gervinho which morphed into a 22 man brawl. Amidst the scuffle the Ivorian raised his hands, and Barton, feeling the slightest of contact on his temple fell to the floor as if a sniper had taken him out. Referee Peter Walton produced a red card for the offence and Gervinho was sent down the tunnel (and would ultimately serve a three match ban for violent conduct) as 10 men Arsenal were unable to break down the Toon army, and had to settle for a costly draw. 

2. Jonathan Woodgate (Real Madrid V Athletic Bilbao)

Eyebrows were raised when Real Madrid shelled out £14 million to register the service of English defender Jonathan Woodgate in 2004. Having not played in well over one-and-a-half years due to injuries, Woodgate’s debut came in a fierce encounter against Athletic Bilbao. And unsurprisingly, it was an unmitigated disaster. The defender’s first major contribution in the match came in the form of a goal, unfortunately it was in the wrong end. Joseba Etxeberria’s shot looked to be headed wide off the post before it deflected off Woodgate’s head to fly pass a hapless Iker Casillas and into the back of the net. It seemed the worst was behind the defender as his teammates scored to put Madrid 2-1 ahead with less than 30 minutes left on the clock. But within a minute of Madrid pulling ahead, the centre-back managed to get himself sent off for a second yellow, for his body check on, you guessed it, Joseba Etxeberria. The Englishman would only muster 14 appearances during his Madrid tenure before he was sent packing back to his homeland. 

3. Henrik Larsson (Celtic Vs. Hibernian)

Henrik Larsson is heralded as a god in Celtic Park. The Swedish striker scored 175 goals in 220 appearances, winning a plethora of both individual and team accolades. His debut, however, comes quite in contrast with the legacy he ultimately left. A dreadlocked Larsson entered the field of play in the second half as the game between Hibernian and Celtic was held at a deadlock. The Swede’s only memorable contribution on the day came in the form of a misplaced pass that gifted Chic Charnley with an opportunity to put The Hibs ahead. Charnley duly obliged, and scored the goal which would eventually prove to be the winner.     

4. Emmanuel Frimpong (Barnsley Vs. Sheffield Wednesday)


Emmanuel Frimpong moved to EFL Championship club Barnsley in 2014 after a forgettable four years at Arsenal. He got off on the wrong foot with supporters after sulking on social media about how it was harder to “draw girls” with his new team! On the field matters were even worse, with Frimpong being sent off on his debut after picking up two yellow cards for fouling the same player twice inside 7 minutes. He was handed his release by Barnsley just four months into his tenure.

5. Rio Ferdinand (Leeds United Vs. Leicester City)

“Rolls Royce” Rio became the most expensive defender in the world when Leeds United paid a staggering £18 million in the beginning of the new millennium. Ferdinand made his debut for Leeds against Leicester City, as he took his place in a three-man defence with Jonathan Woodgate and Lucas Radebe. All three men were considered excellent defenders in their own right, combining to form a cast iron defence. Inside the opening 30 minutes Leeds United found themselves 3-0 down, and as if to rub salt in the wounds, all three goals were headed goals. 

6. Ali Dia (Southampton Vs. Leeds United)

Ali Dia’s debut will forever go down in footballing infamy. Having been previously passed up by several other clubs (probably too many to keep an account of) Ali Dia finally found his home with Premier League club Southampton. He made his debut off the bench against Leeds United. It lasted only 53 appalling minutes. The striker was so bad he was taken off and was never to be seen or heard from again! It was later revealed that manager Graeme Souness signed him on the recommendation of someone pretending to be George Weah.

7. Nicolas Otamendi (Benfica Vs. Farense)

The 32-year-old Argentina centre-back joined Portuguese giants Benfica for £13 million in the summer of 2020 after a successful half-a-decade tenure with Premier League club Manchester City. His debut looked set to be an easy ride as opposition came in the form of Primeira Liga’s bottom side Farense. Otamendi began proceedings by giving away a penalty for a foul on striker Nikola Stojiljkovic. The resulting spot kick was unsuccessful to spare the defender’s blushes. But things soon got worse. Otamendi was beaten to a header for Farense’s opener, and later criminally gave the ball away for the opposition striker to slot home Farense’s second. Luckily for the Argentine defender, Benfica won the game 3-2.

8. Wayne Bridge (West Ham United Vs. Arsenal)

Wayne Bridge made his debut for The Hammers in a London Derby against Arsenal. Unfortunately for the left-back, it was his calamitous performance that left West Ham United at the end of a hammering at the hands of their rivals. He was given a torrid time by England teammate Theo Walcott, and was directly at fault for both goals as The Gunners led 2-0 before the hour mark; Bridge capped off his miserable outing by giving away a late penalty, which Robin van Persie duly slotted home to give Arsenal an emphatic 3-0 victory.

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9. Graeme Souness (Rangers Vs. Hibernian)

Graeme Souness made his name for playing in Liverpool’s all conquering side in the 80s. The Scotsman fulfilled a lifelong dream when he joined his first love Glasgow Rangers in 1986 before calling time on his playing career. His debut, however, was one to forget, getting sent off for one his trademark high boots, aka the Souness tackle, on Hibs forward George McCluskey.

10. Lionel Messi (Argentina Vs. Hungary)

Now here’s a surprise! The greatest footballer of all time made his debut for the Albiceleste on August 17th, 2005 in a friendly against Hungary. Just one minute after stepping on to the pitch, Leo Messi was sent off. 

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