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The Joy of Six: Premier League opening-day debuts

From Alan Shearers stunning statement of intent to the White Feather making his mark on Teesside, half a dozen memorable debut starts to the season

1) Alan Shearer (Crystal Palace v Blackburn, 1992)

The first exchanges of the new Premier League were bathed in iridescent sunshine and the glow felt even warmer after a humdinger at Selhurst Park. Alan Shearer had turned 22 two days previously; he had cost newly-promoted Blackburn, awash with Jack Walkers millions and carefree with ambition, a stunning 3.6m to snare from Southampton for context, Neymar was six months old at the time and there was considerable fascination in whether the trade between two unfashionable clubs would be successful.

At first things did not look promising. Mark Bright headed in a Richard Shaw cross to open the scoring for Palace on 37 minutes; that was cancelled out when Stuart Ripley produced a similar finish from Mike Newells centre but by the break Shearer had looked subdued. The roof was then raised early in the second half when Gareth Southgate, meeting a Bobby Mimms punch with interest, battered a shot in from range to notch his first league goal and one he is unlikely to have ever bettered.

That put Shearer firmly in the shade, but not for long. His first goal was stunning. It owed plenty to Newell, who nodded a long clearance perfectly into his path, but the cushioned first touch and looped half-volley over Nigel Martyn from 25 yards were works of perfection. There was no wheeling away with a solitary arm in the air for this one Shearer dashed over to beyond the corner flag and celebrated in front of the away supporters. He could do so again 15 minutes later, bringing the ball in from the left and, unhindered by the home defence, curled with deadly accuracy past Martyn who was a little slow to get across if we are being fussy from a similar distance. Simon Osborn equalised at the death, but the new signings contribution had signposted a new era even if nobody could quite anticipate just how spectacular his career, and indeed the pull of the Premier League, would go on to be. NA

2) Jrgen Klinsmann (Tottenham v Sheffield Wednesday, 1994)

The summer of 1994 was ostensibly a grim one for Tottenham. After being found guilty of making irregular payments to players, they were fined 600,000, docked 12 points and banned from the FA Cup (the fine was later increased, but the other punishments removed), so they seemingly tried to wash their troubles away by recruiting an absurd coterie of super-glamourous players. Ilie Dumitrescu and Gica Popescu were brought in from Steaua Bucharest and PSV respectively, but the real jewel was of course Jrgen Klinsmann, bought from Monaco. We had to buy someone big because people were doubting our commitment, said manager Ossie Ardiles.

Big, yes, but not exactly a sure thing: Klinsmann was 30, had only scored 10 goals the previous season after missing chunks of it with a knee injury. But any suggestion he would be a dud were dispelled 82 minutes into his debut, against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. As one of [Darren] Andertons deceptive, drifting crosses floated into the goalmouth, wrote David Lacey in the Guardian, he took one pace forward, two steps back and so completely fooled [Des] Walker that he appeared to score with a free header. It was nothing of the kind. Klinsmann put a lot of thought into his first English goal. Shortly afterwards he was taken from the field on a stretcher after clashing heads with Walker, but emerged with his faculties intact enough to offer some thoughts on his new dressing room. The chaps accepted me immediately, he said. They saw a guy come in whos very simple, like them. Er, thanks Jrgen. NM

Jrgen
Jrgen Klinsmann flies for Spurs. Photograph: Stewart Kendall/Allstar Picture Library

3) Fabrizio Ravanelli (Middlesbrough v Liverpool, 1996)

It seems ludicrous to think Fabrizio Ravanelli spent only one season at Middlesbrough. His is a less transient presence in the north-east: to this day, you can buy his vintage Boro shirt for an eye-watering sum, local kids continue to celebrate goals in the park by pulling their shirts over their heads and, down the road in Redcar, there is still a pizzeria that bears his name. But The White Feather left his mark on the people of Teesside. It was a shock to see him arrive in the first place from European champions Juventus, via Euro 96 with Italy, to Boro for 7m then the third most expensive signing in the Premier League. A fresh-faced chairman named Steve Gibson had promised Ravanelli a hefty wage packet and the adulation of a packed crowd at a brand-new stadium, and the Italian had promised goals both delivered on the opening day.

None were particularly spectacular, but against Liverpool, with the sun beating down on the Riverside, they didnt need to be. Thrice the Merseyside side went ahead, thrice Ravanelli scored: the first a penalty blasted into the top corner after Juninho had been felled, the second a poachers tap-in, the third an instinctive finish after pouncing on a loose ball. Each time Ravanelli celebrated with as much vigour as he had a couple of months previously after scoring in the Champions League final. By the seasons end, Ravanelli had scored 31 goals in 48 games, leading Boro to two cup finals. But owing in part to a three-point deduction for cancelling a game against Blackburn Rovers in December, they were also relegated, with Ravanelli swiftly moving on to the sunnier shores of Marseille. It wouldnt be until Alen Boksics arrival in 2000 (who also enjoyed a fine opening-day debut for Boro, scoring twice and assisting Joseph-Dsir Job for the opener at Coventry) that Middlesbrough fans would see a more naturally gifted striker. MB

4) Michu (Swansea v QPR, 2012)

Some players burn brightly, but briefly. For a short time Michu burned like magnesium, a light enhanced by his relatively modest transfer fee in a world where money was taking over everything. Michu would not only become a fine player for a season at Swansea, but a yardstick against which all other transfers would be judged, his 2.5m fee used as a stick with which to beat every other club in the Premier League. Swansea got Michu for so little, why are you spending 20m on X? His debut came on the opening day of the 2012-13 season, as Swansea faced QPR, for which this game would become a portent of the season to come. Swansea won 5-0, and Michu got two of the goals: the first a shot from outside the box which saw Rob Green reprise his 2010 World Cup heroics and let slip between his fingers, the second the very definition of a top corner being picked out from a Wayne Routledge pass. It couldnt have gone better, said a giddy Michu afterwards. I hit the crossbar as well and could have got a hat-trick. The Spaniard continued that form for the rest of the season, bagging another 20 goals, but after that his career gradually petered out, injury ultimately forcing his retirement earlier this year. NM

Michu
Michu celebrates after scoring the first of his two goals against QPR. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

5) Mario Stanic (Chelsea v West Ham, 2000)

Mario Stanic was a typical pre-Abramovich signing for Chelsea: a seasoned continental international who had lost his way slightly in his case after being relegated to the bench at a ludicrously talented Parma side, just as Gianfranco Zola was a few years previously hoping to resurrect his career in west London. Stanic would not go on to have the same impact at Chelsea that Zola did playing 59 times in four injury-hit years before retiring aged 32 but he started in glorious fashion on the first day of the 2000-01 season.

Chelsea were leading West Ham 2-1 with 12 minutes to go, when Dennis Wise threaded a bouncing ball through to the Croatian. Stanic took the ball on the turn, juggled the ball forward once on his thigh, one with his favoured right foot before lashing a looping volley into the top corner from 30 yards out. Woooooooooooooooah, screamed commentator Simon Brotherton, echoing the thoughts of grown men and women across the country. For younger readers, imagine Jeff Hendricks strike against Bournemouth last season, but picture him 15 yards further out, add a couple of more keepy-uppies, and youre in the ball-park. Six minutes later, Stanic scored again from a corner to make it 4-2, rising above two markers to plant a neat header past Shaka Hislop. Not a bad way to start, but Stanic would never hit the same heights again. MB

6) Dave Kitson (Reading v Middlesbrough, 2006)

Opening day giveth, and opening day taketh away. Dave Kitson had been a decent Football League striker for the first six years of his career, then a stack of goals in 2005-06 helped Reading into the top flight for the first time in their history. Little was expected and by the 21st minute of their opening game they were 2-0 down to Middlesbrough and it looked like a long season lay ahead. Kitson missed a free header shortly afterwards but a couple of minutes before half-time, he jabbed a Seol Ki-hyeon cross home to score Readings first ever top-division goal, and start a comeback that eventually ended in a 3-2 victory, but also an injury to Kitson: he hurt a knee, and a combination of that, a hamstring injury and an appendix removal kept him out until January.

A year later, however, Reading travelled to Manchester United on the opening day and tactical necessities led to them deploying only one striker, meaning Kitson was on the bench. After 72 minutes he was called upon, joshing with the fourth official as he replaced Kevin Doyle, but 40 seconds later he was less delighted with those in charge, sent off after charging into a studs-up foul on Patrice Evra. People have seen enough of me now to know my game is all about closing full-backs down and thats all I tried to do, said Kitson. If Rob Styles had two minutes of my company I could get my point across and perhaps he would rescind it. The red card was not rescinded. NM

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2017/aug/10/the-joy-of-six-premier-league-opening-day-debuts

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