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Opinion Piece: Joao Felix & Other Premier League Debut Disasters

Is a player, event, or club all hype or the real deal? Welcome to the home of The Hype Train's opinion pieces, where members of our team discuss a wide array of footballing matters. Here, Ben Hunt delves into his top disasters in top flight football. All aboard.

Debut Disasters in Professional Football:

After Joao Felix’s 58th minute debut red card for Chelsea against Fulham in league action on January 12th 2023, I’ve decided to look back at some of my favourite terrible Premier League debuts, plus one wildcard from La Liga. From rash red cards to cheeky chancers, this list has it all.

Ciao Joao

12th January 2023

Fulham 2-1- Chelsea

The Portuguese forward looked a real coup for Chelsea when he completed his midseason loan move from Atletico Madrid, albeit for a hefty fee. With Chelsea desperate for quality reinforcements during an injury-laden season and Felix eager to rediscover his form, it looked like a dream pairing. But this wasn’t to be…

Felix started the game well and was one of the few bright sparks in an otherwise lethargic Chelsea display, amassing four shots on target and seemingly rediscovering some of the form that contributed to his 2019 Golden Boy award. But in the 58th minute, with Chelsea having recently equalised, Felix allowed his eagerness to get the better of him. After flying in studs-up and making contact with Fulham’s Kenny Tete, the referee had no option but to send Felix for an early bath.

Naturally this had repercussions for the rest of the game with Fulham scoring 15 minutes later to runout 2-1 winners. A day to forget for both Felix and Chelsea. But, not only did Felix’s rashness cost Chelsea the game, it will also cost them financially, with his subsequent 3 match domestic ban costing the club £2.1 million in loan fees and wages.

Theatre of Nightmares

2nd February 2021

Man Utd 9-0 Southampton

I can only assume Ralph Hasenhüttl’s final words to Alexandre Jankewitz before sending him onto the Old Trafford pitch were ‘Let them know you’re there early doors!’. Well, being a 19-year-old making his dream debut at Old Trafford, surely, he was just following orders…

After less than two minutes played Jankewitz bounded studs-up into a challenge with Manchester United’s Scott Mctominay catching him woefully high and bringing the game to a sudden halt. Step in Mr Red Card himself, Mike Dean. The cult-hero referee was no doubt salivating at the sight of Jankewitz’s horror challenge and promptly cut the Swiss midfielder’s debut 88 minutes short.

Southampton went on to lose a record-equalling 9-0 and Jankewitz was sold to Swiss side Young Boys the coming summer, after featuring only one more time for the Saints.

As a United fan I felt bad for the player, but I thoroughly enjoyed the result.

Dia’s dire debut

2nd November 1996

Southampton 0-2 Leeds United

Ali Dia, a Senegalese ‘striker’ with very little top-level footballing experience, is next to feature in this list (somehow).

Dia was signed on a one-month contract by Southampton in 1996 after he convinced, then manager, Graeme Souness that he was the cousin of Ballon d’Or winner George Weah.

Once signed Dia was immediately given a spot on the bench for a Premier League game against Leeds, and after 32 minutes his opportunity arose, replacing of all people Matt Le Tissier. For the following 53 minutes Dia ‘ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice’, according to Le Tissier. It took until the 85th minute before Souness finally came to his senses and he dragged Dia off, bringing to an end Dia’s fleeting, but infamous, Premier League career.

Fake it till you make it, I guess.

Gervinho vs. Barton

13th August 2011

Newcastle United 0-0 Arsenal

Unfortunately for Gervinho he probably hadn’t even heard of Joey Barton when he came up against the volatile Newcastle midfielder. Perhaps it would have been wise for one his teammates to whisper in his ear not to rise to any of Barton’s antics. Well, if they did, Gervinho certainly didn’t listen.

After Barton thought that Gervinho had dived to the floor in the penalty area, he proceeded to aggressively lift the opposition player up leading to a scuffle. This is where Gervinho probably should have left Barton to dig himself a hole. But instead Gervinho naively raised his hand to Barton leaving the referee with no choice but to send the Ivory Coast international off.

This incident quite nicely summed up Gervinho’s Arsenal career, which failed to ever really get off the ground.

Jonathan Woodgate-gate

September 22nd 2005

Real Madrid 3-1 Athletic Bilbao

Yes, I know this one wasn’t in the Premier League but how do you expect me to write an article about shocking debuts without at least mentioning, in my eyes, the most shocking debut of them all. Jonathan Woodgate for Real Madrid.

The suffix ‘-gate’ is often used to denote scandal, and let me tell you this debut was scandalous. After signing for Real Madrid in August 2004 Woodgate would then be out injured for over a year. But finally, his time came and he was named in the starting 11 against Athletic Bilbao. What followed proved to be a nightmare. Within 25 minutes of his debut Woodgate had scored a diving header. Unfortunately for him it was past his own keeper. He’d bravely attempted to block a long-range wayward shot but had inadvertently diverted it into his own net, wrongfooting Iker Casillas. These things happen, not the end of the world.

He then picked up an unnecessary booking for recklessly diving in on Bilbao’s Etxeberria, but again, not the end of the world. He just had to stay calm, and once Real Madrid took a 2-1 lead things were looking back on track for the defender. Think again. Within a minute of Madrid’s second goal Woodgate had been sent off, after calamitously body-checking his tormentor-in-chief, Etxeberria, on the half way line.

The Bernabeu crowd are notoriously unforgiving, but Woodgate’s debut was so bad the Real Madrid fans took pity on the English defender, and instead of deafening boos ringing around the stadium, they clapped.

I think that must have stung the most.

Want to join in on the discussion? Ben Hunt is a new Contributor at The Hype Train in 2023, and you can have your take on our latest opinion piece by finding the Train on Twitter at @HypeTrainHQ, and Ben at @BenHunt1238

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