For some, an international debut also turns out to be an international career.
Far be it from us to mock people who are so incredibly good at football that they end up representing their country, but over the years there have been a few callups that left us wondering what on earth the national team manager responsible for them was smoking.
The following luminaries are among the finest examples of this phenomenon.
In fairness to the Nuge, for a while he was as prolific in front of goal as Paddy Losty in front of a countertop stacked with pints of Guinness.
When he was called up to the England side in March 2007 by Steve McClaren, Nugent was in fact playing in the Championship for Preston North End. He’d been brought in to replace Darren Bent, and came on as a sub against Andorra. Little would Nugent have known he was about to pull off one of the most hilarious moments in 21st century England international football.
In the 93rd minute, Jermain Defoe latched onto a ball dinked over the top and rattled in a shot that squirmed under the Andorran keeper’s body before rolling gently into the net.
Except, it didn’t. Good old Nuge, showing the instincts of a true goalscorer, sprinted five metres after the ball and toe-poked it in from a distance of roughly 3.5 inches.
If you’re not Irish, likeliness is you won’t have heard of Joey Lapira. If you are Irish, there’s a pretty decent chance you won’t have heard of him either.
Lapira, a striker, won a single cap for Ireland in May 2007, at which time he was an amateur soccer-baller at Notre Dame university. Ireland, under Steve Staunton, were touring the USA at the time and called up Lapira to play in a friendly against Ecuador in New York because, well, who the f*ck knows?
Staunton received widespread ridicule for the callup, but was fully justified when, less than a year later, Lapira hit the big time and signed for Nybergsund Idrettslag Trysil in the Norwegian second tier. The ‘Irishman’ went on to have an illustrious career in Norway, banging in 19 goals in 66 appearances over the next five years.
There was a time when Francis Jeffers was considered one of the brightest prospects in English football.
Arsenal poached him from Everton at 21, paying nearly £10m, which was a large fee for the time. Apparently, Arsène Wenger saw him as the ‘Fox in the Box’ for which the club had been searching for several years.
Having made a handful of appearances for the Gunners in 2002-03, he was called up to play for England against Australia in February 2003. By the age of 27, he was failing to get a game in the Championship for Sheffield Wednesday, and by 29 he was playing for Newcastle Jets in the A-League.
Those familiar with the English domestic leagues in the late 1990s and early 2000s will no doubt be aware of the comedy stylings of Ade Akinbiyi.
He was the classic Too Good For The Championship Too Crap For The Premiership striker, a lumbering hold-up merchant who worked hard and moved intelligently but had all the technical ability of a myopic antelope.
Reliability, of course, was his main attribute. If presented with a clear-cut chance, you could be absolutely certain he’d plant the ball into Row P.
Still, Akinbiyi was good enough to earn a callup for the Nigeria national side in 1999. In an era when the Super Eagles boasted attacking talent like Nwankwo Kanu, Tijani Babangida, Emmanuel Amunike, Julius Aghahowa and Victor Ikpeba, one can only wonder why.
For this last spot, we toyed with including several of the other now-infamous English centre-forward one-cap callups, such as Kevin Davies and Michael Ricketts.
But, in fairness to those two, their inclusions were at least relatively justified. Ricketts ended up struggling badly after his sole cap in February 2002, but he’d scored 15 goals in the Premier League in 2001-02 at that point, so it’s not as if it was a completely random act. Davies, meanwhile, was an established and highly competent Premier League centre-forward when he earned the England nod in 2010.
As for Bothroyd, he was plying his trade with Cardiff in the Championship when he got the call from Fabio Capello. He was 28, and despite an admittedly impressive few years with the Blackbirds, hadn’t appeared in the top tier since 2005-06, when he was a bit-part player in an unspectacular Charlton outfit.
The following season, Bothroyd moved to Premier League QPR, and silenced the doubters by banging in three goals in 25 appearances over two seasons.
Other Notable Mentions
Steve Guppy, Seth Johnson, Gavin McCann, Alan Thompson (England)
Owen Coyle, Jon Macken, Mike Milligan, Paul Butler (Ireland)