5 best debut seasons of the modern Premier League era
- The English Premier League, despite its difficult nature, has witnessed some stunning debut seasons over history.
- From Ruud Van Nistelrooy to Sergio Aguero, we take a look at five of the most eye-catching debut seasons of all time.
The Premier League is said to be one of the toughest leagues in world football because of its physicality, fast-paced approach and end-to-end action. The English game attracts the most number of football viewers because of this eye-catching style of play. Broadcasting rights and lucrative TV deals have also globalised the league's ambitions as they have added incredible star power in terms of players and managers.
Hence, it often becomes extremely difficult for debutants to make an immediate impact in the extremely hard-fought league. While some players hit the ground running, others succumb under intense pressure. Having said that, we will now take a look at five incredible debut seasons since the league’s inception in 1993.
#5 Fernando Torres
Often marred by his stop-start stint at Chelsea, Fernando Torres became an instant superstar when he arrived in the Premier League for the first time in 2007. The Spaniard was signed by Liverpool from Spanish heavyweights Atletico Madrid and he looked keen to stamp his authority in the English game from the get-go.
Donning the coveted number 9 shirt, which was previously worn by Anfield greats Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler, Torres stole hearts with his elite goalscoring ability. The forward scored 24 goals and provided another 4 assists in his first Premier League campaign, eclipsing Ruud van Nistelrooy as the most prolific foreign debutant at the time. During the season, he became the first Liverpool player to score back-to-back hat-tricks at home since Jack Balmer in 1946.
Torres, for his performances, won the Player of the Month for February and got shortlisted for the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, eventually losing out to Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo. The then-23-year-old was also nominated in the Young Player of the Year category but Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas bagged that award. ‘El Nino’, however, was named in the PFA Team of the Year and finished third on the Ballon d’Or podium.
Not many players can adapt to a completely different league with a completely different style of play but Torres took no time to settle as he kickstarted his legacy as one of the all-time great Premier League strikers.
#4 Ruud van Nistelrooy
Ruud van Nistelrooy became a phenomenon in only his first season in England. The Dutchman arrived at Old Trafford in the summer of 2001 following Manchester United’s trio of consecutive Premier League victories. There was significant pressure on Van Nistelrooy’s shoulders given the price and reputation with which he had come. The former PSV Eindhoven striker would also have to fill in Teddy Sheringham’s shoes in attack and compete with the likes of Andy Cole and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer up-front.
However, Van Nistelrooy hit the ground running, scoring a double against newly-promoted Fulham on his debut. He went onto score 23 in the entire campaign, including a stunning hat-trick against Southampton, with only Arsenal’s Thierry Henry topping him in the goalscoring charts.
Although he could not spearhead United to a fourth straight league title, Van Nistelrooy, for his attacking exploits, bagged the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award in his first full English top-flight season. He also broke Mark Stein, Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry’s record for goals in consecutive matches (8) before bettering it himself two years later. Jamie Vardy, however, holds the current record of scoring in 11 straight games in Leicester City’s 2015/16 title-winning campaign.
The Netherlands hit-man remains one of the most lethal forwards the Premier League has ever seen as he went onto score a remarkable 95 goals in just 150 appearances for the Red Devils. However, many would agree that his outstanding first season in English football laid the foundation on which he built his legendary status.
#3 Petr Cech
Chelsea legend Petr Cech is, without a doubt, one of the best goalkeepers in Premier League history because of his unparalleled achievements and accomplishments in the country. The shot-stopper arrived at Stamford Bridge from French outfit Rennes ahead of the 2004-05 season and was immediately thrust into first-team action following a pre-season injury to the Blues' first-choice keeper, Carlo Cudicini.
Cech kept a clean-sheet on his debut against Manchester United and went on to keep a record 24 clean-sheets during the course of the season. Chelsea’s defence went on to concede just 15 goals in the entire campaign with Cech in goal, a record that still stands today. The former Czech Republic skipper also set a personal record as he went an incredible 1,025 minutes without conceding a goal over a three-month period. That record, however, was broken by Manchester United legend Edwin Van der Sar.
Jose Mourinho’s side went onto lift their first English top-flight title in nearly 50 years and much of that triumph was due to their defensive solidity. Cech played a telling role in the triumphant campaign as he barely put a foot wrong and won over the Stamford Bridge faithful in no time. The rest, as they say, is history.
#2 Sergio Aguero
When Manchester City signed Atletico Madrid striker Sergio Aguero for a then-club record £38 million, not many were impressed. The Argentine front-man did wonders in the Spanish top-flight but question marks were raised on whether he could adapt to the English game.
However, Aguero hushed all the critics in only his first Premier League game as he scored a brace off the bench and teed up David Silva to cap off a memorable start to life in Manchester. Roberto Mancini had assembled a world-class team consisting of stars like Yaya Toure, David Silva, Edin Dzeko, Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart with Aguero seeming like the last piece of the jigsaw.
With the former Independiente forward in attack, Manchester City looked like genuine title contenders after breathing down the necks of their cross-town rivals Manchester United the past season. Aguero scored a hat-trick against Wigan in his debut season whilst also netting important goals against Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool on his way to 23 for the campaign. However, it was his final goal in the final minutes of the final game of the season against Queens Park Rangers which is forever etched in City folklore.
That strike in the 94th minute handed the Blues their first English top-flight trophy in 44 years as Aguero announced his arrival in England.
#1 N’Golo Kante
Leicester City’s fairytale Premier League triumph in the 2015-16 season is often accredited to their then-talismanic duo of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. The Foxes achieved the unthinkable when they eclipsed the English elite to lift their first-ever domestic title under Claudio Ranieri. However, whilst Mahrez and Vardy got all the plaudits and rewards for their attacking brilliance, it was midfielder N’Golo Kante who was largely responsible for Leicester City’s surge to supremacy.
The 28-year-old was signed from French outfit Caen for a meagre amount of £5.6 million in the summer of 2015. Leicester’s then-reliable scout Steve Walsh was responsible for bringing in the Frenchman after extensively watching him in Ligue 1.
An omnipresent defensive presence, Kante is a natural ball-winner, interceptor, and tackler, all of which helped Ranieri’s Leicester team to quickly get on the front foot. He is a brilliant presser of the ball, whose primary job is to disrupt the opponent’s flow and rhythm. Although not blessed with gifted technique in the final third, Kante always finds himself in dangerous pockets behind the defence and creates problems for the opposition.
In Leicester’s title-winning season, the diminutive midfielder was the league leader in terms of both tackles and interceptions, a statistic unheard of. He also had 5 goal contributions in the Premier League that season, even from a defensive midfield role. Kante’s stock increased remarkably after his heroics with Leicester earning him a deserved £32 million move to Chelsea the following season where he lifted the Premier League title again.
Published 20 Mar 2020, 12:31 IST