Starting a new job, any job, is a time of apprehension mixed with anticipation. That ‘first day’ feeling of knowing whatever has gone before, and whatever achievements you’ve had in your career thus far, you’re now starting again from scratch in a new environment. The Debut Syndrome.
You have new colleagues to impress and perhaps a reputation that precedes you to live up to. You realise the spotlight is going to be on you as those around you size you up and run the rule over you in an early judgement. That’s normal, as, after all, your very presence in what had previously been ‘their’ environment can be seen as a direct threat or challenge to their future career progress. You are either going to help them or hinder them, and they are wary of you.
While some players have the most astounding of debuts and then launch their careers accordingly, others suffer the complete reverse.
Danny Drinkwater was no doubt looking forward to his debut for Aston Villa on January 12 this year following his loan move from Chelsea.
It is perhaps fair to say that his move to the Stamford Bridge club from Leicester in 2017 has not exactly proved to be a resounding success. No league appearances at all in 2018-19 led to Drinkwater being loaned to Burnley for the first half of the 2019-20 season.
Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse for Drinkwater at Turf Moor and after just a single league appearance before Christmas, his loan deal was cancelled.
So, to Villa Park and a fresh start, then. A debut against champions, Manchester City and what could possibly go wrong?
25 minutes gone and City lead by two goals to nil with Drinkwater at fault for both. At half-time, the scoreline is 4-0 and on 90 minutes it’s 6-1.
By the final whistle, though, Drinkwater is on the bench having been substituted 10 minutes before the end. As debuts go, it’s been one to forget for Danny
Although no doubt distraught at the evening’s proceedings, Drinkwater could maybe take some comfort from the fact that he is far from being alone in the ‘Nightmare Debut’ stakes.
A trawl through the archives takes a look at some others who would perhaps prefer to forget how it all began.
Jonathan Woodgate – Real Madrid 2005
The phrase ‘having a Woodgate’ has passed into common terminology to describe anyone in any walk of life who has such an unmitigated disaster on their first day in a new job that there is no conceivable way things can ever get any worse.
Poor old Woodgate rose to prominence as a youth starlet at Leeds United, where he starred in David O’Learey’s annoying self-monikered ‘Team of Babies’ that reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2001. The Elland Road club’s well-documented financial difficulties led to Woodgate being transferred to Newcastle in 2003, where he quickly became a fans’ favourite.
In the summer of 2004, Real Madrid came calling despite Woodgate suffering from an injury that was to delay his debut for over a year.
Eventually, though, the long wait was over and Woodgate lined up to make his league debut against Atletico Bilbao.
65 minutes later and Woodgate was making his way off the pitch courtesy of receiving a second yellow card. Given that he had also scored am own goal by way of a spectacular diving header, one could safely conclude that this was one for the archives.
Speaking with admirable fortitude in the face of adversity after the match Woodgate remarked: “I want to thank the public, who were brilliant when I was walking off. They were all clapping and cheering.”
You can see why, can’t you?
Glenn Keeley – Everton 1982
Almost forty years on from his Everton debut Glenn Keeley remains a legend on Merseyside. Unfortunately for him, it is the red half of the city that sings songs about the derby match in November 1982 in which Keeley made his one and only appearance for the Toffees.
A steady centre-half, Keeley had enjoyed a mainly uneventful and nondescript career with Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers before getting the call from his old Rovers’ manager, Howard Kendall, to join Everton on loan.
Suffering from an injury crisis, Kendall had no option but to drag Keeley straight into the side to face a rampant Liverpool team currently flying at the top of the table.
Up against a strikeforce of Dalglish and Rush, Keeley was soon struggling and with 37 minutes gone Rush had already scored one while Dalglish had seen an effort disallowed.
It was then that Keeley managed to write himself into the halls of infamy. A long ball out of defence from Alan Hansen found Dalglish and Keeley in a foot-race that the centre half looked like losing on the edge of Evertob’s penalty area.
Not hesitating, Keeley grabbed Dalglish’s arm and pulled him back and in doing so gave the referee no option but to give him his marching orders.
Liverpool went onto win the game 5-0 and those 37 minutes were the only ones Keeley ever spent in an Everton jersey.
Graeme Souness – Glasgow Rangers 1986
Graeme Souness does what it says on the tin. Everybody knows what they are getting when they employ him in any role. Whether it’s as a pundit on Sky, a centre-midfielder for the all-conquering Liverpool side of the late 70s and early 80s, or the player-manager of one of the biggest clubs in Britain, nobody could ever be under any illusions that they were employing the services of any kind of shrinking violet.
In the summer of 1986, Souness was tempted home from Italy and a two-year sojourn at Sampdoria by the opportunity to take over as player-boss of Glasgow Rangers. It was a bold move by the Rangers board given the fact that Souness was not yet 34 when he accepted the job and had no managerial experience whatsoever.
No matter, what he lacked regarding experience in the dug-out he more than compensated for on the field where there was nobody more street-wise or cunning.
Strangely ironic, then, that his debut lasted not one half before he managed to get himself sent off for two bookable fouls in a hot-tempered affair against Hibernian at Easter Road.
Allowing himself to get drawn into a midfield war of attrition seemed to be a rookie mistake for the veteran Souness, but that is exactly what happened and a bust up on the stroke of half-time that ended up in a 17-man brawl ensured Souness was back in the changing room a couple of minutes earlier than his charges.
Presumably, he spent the extra time quietly reflecting and fine-tuning his half-time team talk.
David De Gea – Manchester United 2011
Manchester United have had some truly great goalkeepers over the years. From Harry Gregg to Edwin Van Der Saar, with Alex Stepney, Gary Bailey, Peter Schmeichel and Fabien Bartez in between, United have been blessed with some legends between the sticks.
In the near-decade since making his debut in 2011, David De Gea has consistently shown himself worthy of being included in this unofficial Hall of Fame as his performances have often been the only thing keeping United in the top half of the table.
Although there is a general consensus that his performances have dipped in the last couple of seasons, he remains one of the best ‘keepers in the club’s long and illustrious history.
Going back to 2011, however, it was a nervous and not particularly confident-looking 20-year-old De Gea who made his league debut on the opening day of the season in United’s away match against West Bromwich Albion.
Struggling to impose himself on the game or to inspire any sort of confidence amongst the United defence, De Gea was guilty of allowing a long-range effort from Albion’s Shane Long to beat him.
Such was the demeanour and bearing of De Gea during the game that long before its conclusion the United back four were keeping the ball away from him and the young keeper was looking a forlorn figure between the sticks.
That he was able to bounce back from what Sir Alex Ferguson described as a ‘learning process’ and become one of the best ‘keepers of the decade bears testimony not just to his ability but to his strength of character, too.
Gary Plumley – Watford 1987
The story of Gary Plumley really is a remarkable one. In a career spanning slightly more than a decade, the Birmingham-born goalkeeper spent most of a nondescript career in the bottom two divisions with Cardiff City, Newport and Hereford United, as well as a spell playing in Hong Kong.
In 1987 he had been practically retired for almost two seasons and was working as a wine bar manager at the time. His father, Eddie, was at the time working as Chief Executive of Watford, who, under the leadership of Graham Taylor, had battled their way through to an FA Cup semi-final clash with Tottenham Hotspur at Villa Park.
In the run-up to the match, the established Number One, Tony Coton, broke a finger and so Taylor was forced to turn to his deputy, Steve Sherwood. When Sherwood too suffered an injury the week before the Villa Park showdown with Spurs, Taylor was in dire straights.
Faced with the prospect of blooding the only other goalkeeper Watford had on their books at the time, a 17-year-old David James, Taylor instead turned to Eddie Plumley for help. Was his son in any sort of fitness, he pondered, and if so, could he possibly help them out of a hole?
Well, if Plumley Snr harboured any doubts regarding his son’s readiness or availability to keep goal in front of 45,000 souls at Villa Park, the pull of his paternal responsibilities outweighed those of his professional ones and nodding in the affirmative he promptly gave Gary a call.
Alas, the story was to have no fairytale ending as Spurs piled the pressure on the patently unfit and out of shape Plumley from the first minute and a disaster ensued.
First, he failed to hold a speculative shot from 30 metres from Clive Allen, allowing Steve Hodge to sweep in the opener. Two minutes later, obviously encouraged by Plumley’s earlier ineptness, Allen tried again from long range and a wicked deflection took it past the stranded Plumley.
Ten minutes from half-time Clive’s cousin, Paul Allen shot Spurs’ third, beating Plumley at his near post and the game was over. A further second-half goal from Hodge completed the 4-1 scoreline and, needless to say, Plumley never played for Watford, or anyone else, ever again.
Finally, no article about disastrous debuts would be complete without at least one honourable mention in the managerial stakes.
Gordon Strachan – Celtic 2005
Gordon Strachan somehow lucked into the Celtic managerial hot-seat after mixed spells at Coventry City and Southampton had left him out of the game for 16 months.
As luck would have it, Strachan’s first competitive game in charge was a Champions League second qualifying tie against Slovak side, FC Petržalka. A nice easy game to set Strachan and Celtic up for the season ahead.
That was the plan, anyway.
In one of the biggest shocks in the history of the Champions League, Celtic crashed to arguably the worst defeat in their history as they were destroyed by a 5-0 scoreline in the first leg away from home.
The fact that the return leg at Celtic Park was won by a 4-0 scoreline was of no consolation, but at least Strachan went on to enjoy a successful career as Celtic manager, winning three successive SPL titles.
Perhaps Strachan’s example of things eventually coming right after the shakiest of starts is something Danny Drinkwater can cling to as he attempts to detox from the calamitous beginnings of his time at Villa Park.
Then again, maybe not.