Manchester United's Martial and other Premier League fast-starters
The summer was dominated by transfer speculation over the likes of Christian Benteke, David de Gea, Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne. While some of these deals seemed to take an age to go through, or in de Gea’s case not at all, transfer deadline day saw a handful of sudden moves which appeared to materialise literally overnight. Two of those who arrived on 1st September to relatively little fanfare were Anthony Martial and Son Heung-Min to Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur respectively. Neither came cheap, with Martial setting the Old Trafford club back £36 million and the South Korean costing Spurs £22 million.
Both have made roaring starts to life in England; with Martial following up a stunning goal on his debut against Liverpool with two crucial strikes in the 3-2 defeat of Southampton, and Son scoring twice in the Europa League win over Qarabag before netting a vital winner against Crystal Palace. It is fair to say that these two recent arrivals have not needed a ‘settling-in’ period, although it is much too early to know for sure if their exploits over the past two weeks are a sign of things to come or merely a false dawn. This piece looks at other overseas players who made a flying start in the Premier League and assesses whether or not they built on it afterwards.
The German wasn’t exactly welcomed into the Premier League with open arms in 1994, owing to his role in knocking the Three Lions out of the World Cup four years earlier and his reputation for diving, but his goal celebration mocking that status on his Tottenham debut was well received on the whole. It also helped that Klinsmann maintained his form throughout the campaign at Spurs, scoring 21 league goals and being named the Football Writers’ Player of the Year for the 1994/95 season. He amazingly left only a year later before returning for another season in 1997, playing a crucial role in Tottenham’s successful battle against relegation. Two decades on, Klinsmann is still idolised around White Hart Lane.
The silver-haired Italian couldn’t have made a better start to life in England, scoring a hat-trick on his Middlesbrough debut against Liverpool in 1996. Ravanelli found the net 16 times in the Premier League that season and was a key player in the team that reached; and lost, both domestic cup finals. However, Boro suffered relegation from the top flight and the striker fell out with the club’s supporters over his continued criticism of the training regime. His debut will never be forgotten, but can perhaps be seen as all downhill from there for Ravanelli, who went from Champions League winner (with Juventus) to Football League participant within a year.
Ruud van Nistelrooy
The Dutchman was on his way to Manchester United in 2000, only for a serious injury to delay the transfer for a year. It was worth the wait as he notched two goals on his debut against Fulham and hit the ground running at Old Trafford. He scored 23 league goals in his first season in England and was the Premier League’s top scorer in 2002/03, reaching 100 goals for the club in less than three years and consistently finding the net until a row with Sir Alex Ferguson in spring 2006 marked the beginning of the end of his time in Manchester. It wasn’t how he would have liked it to finish, but van Nistelrooy was outstanding for United and enjoyed the best spell of his career in England.
El Hadji Diouf
Liverpool fans were beside themselves with glee when one of the stars of Senegal’s incredible World Cup in 2002 signed for The Reds for £11 million that summer and two goals on his Anfield debut against Southampton only added to his reputation. In two seasons on Merseyside, he would only find the net once more, Diouf rapidly getting a notorious name for himself due to his spitting at a Celtic fan in 2003 and his highly questionable commitment to the club. However much Mario Balotelli annoyed Liverpool supporters last season, it was nothing compared to the derision that was heaped upon Diouf, and he only had himself to blame. Further indiscretions after he left Anfield served only to dent his reputation further not only on Merseyside, but throughout England as a whole.
The Romanian striker was part of the first wave of big-money signings in the Roman Abramovich era at Chelsea in 2003 and he wasted little time in endearing himself to the Blues faithful, scoring four times in his first three games for Claudio Ranieri’s side. Mutu would only add two more goals for the rest of the 2003/04 season though, and he got off on the wrong foot with José Mourinho over a supposed fake injury. A failed drugs test in the autumn of 2004 saw his contract with Chelsea terminated and his reputation sullied thereafter.
The Spaniard was one of the most sought-after strikers in Europe when he signed for Liverpool in 2007 and he won over the Anfield support instantly, scoring on his debut against Chelsea. He hit 29 goals in all competitions for the Reds in his first season and continued that superb form into the following campaign, one which saw Rafael Benitez’s team narrowly miss out on the Premier League title. Torres was impressive throughout his time on Merseyside, but with Liverpool in danger of becoming a mid-table team under Roy Hodgson, he was lured to Chelsea in January 2011 for the princely sum of £50 million but he never reproduced his Anfield form in west London. However, Torres did enough at Liverpool to ensure his status as one of the Premier League’s greatest strikers.
Not much was known about Wigan’s Egyptian signing in the summer of 2008, but it wasn’t long before Zaki was wowing Premier League observers. He scored eight goals in as many games at the start of his career at the DW Stadium, including two wonder strikes in a 3-2 defeat at Liverpool where Wigan were unfortunate to lose. His performances had manager Steve Bruce gushing, but the relationship between the two turned sour later in the season after Zaki returned late from international duty and was issued one of several fines he incurred during his time at the club. This potentially fruitful partnership lasted only one year, ending in acrimony after starting so well.
The Argentina striker and nephew of Diego Maradona wasn’t exactly an unknown quantity when Manchester City brought him to England in 2011, but nobody quite knew just how good he would be after moving to pastures new. Aguero struck twice on his City debut in a 4-0 win over Swansea and registered 23 goals in his first season in Manchester. Of course, one of those is arguably the most famous goal in Premier League history, the 94th-minute title-winning intervention on the final day of 2011/12 against QPR, the one which sparked THAT Martin Tyler commentary. He didn’t hit the same heights the following year, although it was a campaign blighted by numerous injuries, but a goal ratio of just under 0.75 per game helped City to another league title in 2014. Aguero has surpassed 100 goals in a Man City shirt and remains one of the world’s most fearsome strikers at the age of 27.
After a fruitful spell at Rangers, Jelavic signed for Everton in January 2012 and, on his first start for The Toffees, scored the winner against Tottenham. The Croatian striker followed that up over the forthcoming months, scoring in five consecutive away games; one of those a thrilling 4-4 draw against Man United, and finding the net 11 times in just three months at Goodison Park. Jelavic maintained that form into the opening months of 2012/13 but the goals dried up later that season and by the following campaign he was a bit-part player under Roberto Martinez, who sold him to Hull City in January 2014.
Like Jelavic, the Senegal hitman arrived in the Premier League midway through 2011/12 and instantly became a smash hit. Linking up with fellow countryman Demba Ba up front for Newcastle United, Cisse netted on his debut against Aston Villa and worked his way up to 13 goals in less than half a season, including doubles against Liverpool and Chelsea as the Geordies finished in fifth place. Cisse’s second at Stamford Bridge was memorable, a curled shot from the left wing which left Petr Cech stranded. His first full season at St James’ Park was not as successful however, finding the net just eight times and he only scored twice in the league in 2013/14. Cisse’s form improved last season but his time at Newcastle has thus far been one of peaks and troughs, a rich vein of scoring form giving way to a prolonged dry spell and then back and forth again.
Another January 2012 arrival, the Russian scored in his first two Fulham games and then netted a hat-trick in a 5-0 demolition of Wolves, his return of five goals from his opening three Premier League being a feat nobody had matched before or has since. A subsequent ankle injury meant that he only added one more for the rest of the season and he failed to agree terms with The Cottagers in the off-season, hence a free transfer to Reading less than six months after joining Fulham. He managed just five league goals for the Royals in 2012/13 as they were relegated and the stunning form he showed upon his arrival in England was never maintained.
The Spaniard was a cut-price £2 million signing by Swansea in 2012, the transfer being glossed over for the most part in the media, but two goals and a man of the match performance on his debut against QPR in a 5-0 away win saw him immediately earn rave reviews. He ended the season with 18 top flight goals as the Swans lifted the League Cup, proving to be a magnificent bargain, but injuries curtailed his involvement in 2013/14 and he was shipped out to Napoli on loan last season. That wonderful first season ensured that he was a success, although Michu’s future appears to lie away from the Welsh club and there are reports that he is even considering retiring from the game.
The Chilean did little wrong at Barcelona but his contribution for The Catalan giants was continually overshadowed by Lionel Messi, so the La Liga giants were willing to let him go to Arsenal in July 2014 even after he was one of the best players at the World Cup in Brazil. From the word ‘go’, he took to life in London like a duck to water, registering in early league games against Leicester and Man City and he was sublime for The Gunners last season, scoring 25 goals in all competitions and inspiring Arsenal to a third-place finish and the successful retention of the FA Cup. He netted a stupendous long-range effort in the 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa in the final of that particular domestic competition. This season is proving a little trickier, with Sanchez yet to get off the mark since the summer.
After Chelsea’s 2013/14 title ambitions were hampered by the lack of a potent striker, José Mourinho laid down a marker by capturing Costa from Atlético Madrid after the Brazil-born Spain international helped the La Liga club to a shock domestic title and the Champions League final. Costa had a reputation as a troublemaker but he was equally well known for his magnificence in front of goal, scoring seven times in his first four Premier League matches and playing his part in the Blues’ romp to the title. However, he has been no stranger to controversy in his time at Chelsea, stamping on Emre Can in a League Cup game in January and provoking Gabriel Paulista into getting sent off last weekend. Also, he has just one goal to his name since the start of the season, failing to reproduce the rip-roaring start to his first year in west London.
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