Top 5 Debuts of 21st Century: Haaland, Rooney Headline List


Jul 28, 2023

It was as memorable as a debut can get for Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi last week, and it got us at SportsGrid thinking. What are some of the best debuts in world soccer of the 21st century?

We hunted to find the five best debuts of the past 23 years as greats from across the globe have displayed statement performances upon new arrivals.

Here are the five best debuts in soccer from the 21st century.

1. Erling Haaland – Borussia Dortmund vs. Augsburg (Bundesliga) | January 18, 2020

Known as arguably the best player in the world at just 23 years old, Haaland truly started to make a name for himself as soon as his debut for Dortmund after the January transfer window. The former Molde frontman was subbed in during the 56th minute, where he scored a 23-minute hat trick to help complete a 3-1 comeback, paving the way for international superstardom for the Norweigan.

2. Wayne Rooney – Manchester United vs. Fenerbahce | September 28, 2004

It doesn’t get much better than a hat-trick in the Champions League to introduce yourself to your new club. Rooney dazzled his way through the midfield against Fenerbahce while banging in a free kick from long range to secure his hat-trick by the 54th minute. He’d have a legendary career with the Red Devils in a pairing that lasted 14 years.

3. Sergio Aguero – Manchester City vs. Swansea City (Premier League) | August 15, 2011

Aguero will always be remembered as one of City’s best players, and it did not take long for him to become a fan favorite of the Citizens. Entering the match during the 59th minute with just a 1-0 lead, the Argentinian made quick work of the Swansea defense, putting one past the Swans in the 68th minute and completing his brace in the 90th.

4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Los Angeles FC | March 31, 2018

Does it get more Zlatan than stealing the spotlight from one of the MLS’s biggest rivalries in the waning minutes? The Swedish sensation did just that in 2018, subbing into the match during the 71st minute with the Galaxy trailing 3-1. After a goal in the 72nd, chaos ensued as Ibrahimovic rocketed a 40-yard strike over the goalkeeper’s head to tie it in the 77th. He completed one of the MLS’s best debuts of all-time with a winning header in the 91st.

5. Lionel Messi – Inter Miami CF vs. Cruz Azul (Leagues Cup) | July 21, 2023

Despite just scoring one goal, the anticipation and drama surrounding Messi’s debut make it one of the most magical of the past two decades. Messi’s debut in the United States came against Liga MX club Cruz Azul, where they had Inter Miami in a 1-1 stalemate up until the 94th minute when the home side won a free kick. The rest is history after the GOAT magically curled a shot off his left foot into the top of the net, sending the sold-out crowd into a frenzy and stamping his arrival to the MLS.

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Thumbnail photo via Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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