The 10 greatest debuts of all time

Carlo Garganese

Every footballer dreams of scoring on his debut – or at least putting in an impressive performance during his maiden appearance.

Some players don’t get their wish. For example, Jonathan Woodgate infamously scored an own goals and was then sent off on his Real Madrid debut in 2005 following a big money-move from Leeds United.

But there have been many memorable debuts over the years.

Football Transfers looks at 10 of the best.

Jimmy Greaves: Five clubs

Jimmy Greaves is selected more for an accumulation of incredible debuts than for one in particular.

The England legend unbelievably scored on his debut for every team he played for until he officially retired in 1971. He hit the back of the net in his first games for Chelsea, AC Milan, Tottenham, West Ham and England.

Zinedine Zidane: France (1994)

Zinedine Zidane had perhaps the worst ending to an international career ever in 2006 when he was infamously sent off for head-butting Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final.

But twelve years earlier he had one of the best international debuts. With France losing 2-0 to the Czech Republic, Zidane entered as a substitute and cracked home two goals in the final five minutes to earn a draw. The first was a beauty.

Gianluigi Buffon: Parma (1995)

Gianluigi Buffon was only 17 when he was thrust into the Parma first team following an injury to the first-choice goalkeeper Luca Bucci.

It was a baptism of fire against a star-studded AC Milan team that had dominated Italy and Europe for the past seven years. Buffon produced a legendary performance, making superb saves from Roberto Baggio, George Weah and Zvonimir Boban to keep a clean sheet.

Alvaro Recoba: Inter (1997)

It takes some performance to overshadow the debut of the great Brazilian Ronaldo but that is exactly what Alvaro Recoba did on the first day of the 1997-98 Serie A season.

All attention was on Ronaldo after his world record transfer from Barcelona but it was another debutant who captured all the headlines. Coming on in the second half with Inter trailing 1-0 to Brescia, Recoba smashed home two unstoppable 30 yarders with his lethal left foot to win the game.

Ronaldo: Real Madrid (2002)

Ronaldo had a much more successful debut at his next club after signing for Real Madrid from Inter in 2002.

It took the Brazilian just 61 seconds to find the back of the net against Alaves after coming on as a substitute. The attacker then scored again before leaving the pitch to a standing ovation.

Wayne Rooney: Man Utd (2004)

Wayne Rooney was tagged as a generational player – the ‘new Paul Gascoigne’ – after bursting onto the scene with his first goal for Everton against Arsenal as a 16-year-old.

Two seasons later he joined Man Utd for the highest-ever fee for a teenager. On his United debut he bagged a brilliant hat-trick against Fenerbahce in the Champions League and there could be no doubt just how special a player he was.

Federico Macheda: Man Utd (2009)

Another teenager who makes the list is a certain Federico Macheda, who turned the course of the 2008-09 title race.

In a crucial game against Aston Villa at Old Trafford, United trailed 2-1 going into the final stages. Macheda was brought on for Nani and, after Cristiano Ronaldo had equalised, the 17-year-old Italian swivelled to fire home a fantastic winner deep into injury time.

Johan Voskamp: Sparta Rotterdam (2010)

Has any debutant ever scored more goals than Johan Voskamp managed for Sparta Rotterdam in the Eerste Divisie in 2010-11.

Voskamp struck EIGHT times in a 12-1 win on the way to scoring a total of 29 times that season. Still, it was only enough for a ninth-placed finish!

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: LA Galaxy (2018)

When a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic left Manchester United to move to the MLS following a serious injury, it was expected that he would wind down his career in the United States.

But Zlatan is Zlatan and he announced his arrival as a substitute with a simply incredible 45-yard half-volley against local rivals Los Angeles FC. He then scored a winner in stoppage time with a header. Ibra would return to Europe and play into his forties.

Erling Haaland: Dortmund (2020)

Erling Haaland was the talk of Europe when he rejected pretty much every major club on the continent to sign for Borussia Dortmund for €20m in January 2020.

The teenage wonderkid immediately justified all the hype by scoring a 23-minute hat-trick on his debut after coming on in the second half of the 5-3 win over FC Augsburg. He’s not stopped scoring since.