With the Euro 2020 qualifiers underway, we thought what better way to get revved up than by remembering some of the least prolific strikers to ‘grace’ the international stage…
There have been some truly great goalscorers at international level over the years – Ferenc Puskás, Pelé, Gerd Müller, our own Robbie Keane and Ali Daei, the only man to score over 100 international goals (though, with 85 for Portugal at the moment, you just wouldn’t put it past Cristiano Ronaldo to reach that milestone before he retires).
Oh, and of course 79-goal Godfrey Chitalu, the Kabwe Warriors legend and five-time Zambian footballer of the year. And that’s just to name but a few.
But, we couldn’t give a toss about any of those lads.
We’re only interested in the windbags who stumbled into a shirt for their country and promptly found their way out of it again. For your pleasure, five of the most infuriating, disappointing, mind-boggling and/or down-right woeful lads to ‘grace’ the international stage.
1. David Nugent
On March 28th, 2007, David Nugent would make history and write his name into folklore with the greatest piece of sh*thousery you’re ever likely to see from anybody not named Sergio Ramos. Then at Preston North End, Nugent was making waves as a striker who sometimes scored goals in the Championship and somehow this led to him receiving a call up for a Euro 2008 qualifier.
We say somehow, but Steve McClaren was the man who called him up, so we shouldn’t be all that surprised — in fact, we’re eternally grateful because it led to one of the greatest international goals of all time. OF ALL TIME. Andorra were the poor fools on the receiving end of this piece of genius.
In the 93rd minute, England were two goals to the good and cruising. Jermain Defoe, in acres of space, latches onto a ball over the top and does well to control, swivel and shoot. The Andorran ‘keeper looks to have saved the effort, but it squirms under his body and is rolling into the goal…
But Nugent — on as a sub for his international debut — isn’t sure that it has enough gas to cross the line, so he steams in and boots the ball home to make sure.
The thing that makes it is Nugent’s face afterwards — the chap knows full well what he’s done. Defoe may have been laughing, but you could tell he was livid. When asked about it much later, Nugent would say in an interview: “I used my pace to get there.” The audacity.
— Freddy Adu (@FreddyAdu) September 7, 2018
2 Freddy Adu
At the age of 14, Freddy Adu was being touted as the next Pelé and had signed for MLS side DC United not as a future prospect, but as an immediate first-team player. At the age of 16, Adu would make his senior international debut for the United States. The world was at the feet of this wonderkid and he ended up having a trial at Manchester United.
“Freddy has done all right,” Sir Alex Ferguson would say afterwards. “He is a talented boy. He’ll go back to the US and we’ll keep a check on him. When he is 18, we will have to assess what we can do next.”
United did not sign Adu and all the hype soon began to fade away as he left the MLS for Europe where he subsequently became a journeyman. At international level, Adu would score just two goals in 17 appearances and hasn’t won a cap since the 2011 Gold Cup final which the States lost 4-2 to Mexico.
Last time we checked, Adu had just been released by United Soccer League side Las Vegas Lights: his 14th club as a professional. The quality of his first international goal for his country — a free-kick against Guatemala in a World Cup qualifier at the age of 19 — shows what might have been.
3. Francis Jeffers
Speaking of wonderkids, Franny Jeffers was another who showed tremendous early promise only to disappear into the ether. His early performances for Everton — and presumably the ‘Fox in the Box’ nickname — prompted Arsène Wenger to bring him to Arsenal for £8m. Dogged by injuries during his time in London, Jeffers found it hard to get a run of games even when fit because Arsenal had some guy called Thierry Henry – who was apparently pretty good.
Still, despite his travails, Jeffers somehow wormed his way into an England squad in February 2003 when Sven Goran Eriksen called him up for a friendly against Australia at Upton Park. Some other young chap also made his England debut that night, we think his name was Wayne Rooney. In any case, England got trounced 3-1, but Jeffers joined the prestigious ‘one game, one goal’ club by netting the consolation. He would never wear the Three Lions again.
As was inevitable, he would leave Arsenal and bounce around a number of clubs before wrapping up a thrilling career by getting released by Accrington Stanley and going on trial with Bury, Chester and Brunei DPMM of the Singapore Premier League — none of whom opted to acquire his services.
All that said, Jeffers is still England’s joint all-time top goalscorer at under-21 level with some other nobody called Alan Shearer.
4. Stephane Guivarc’h
In the Breton language, Guivarc’h apparently means ‘swift stallion’. If you were to go tell that to some Newcastle fans who remember the time Kenny Dalglish thought it would be a good idea to bring him to Tyneside, they’d swiftly provide you with their own interpretation which would undoubtedly liken the Frenchman to a donkey.
To be fair, Daglish signed a World Cup winner and the man who was top scorer in Ligue 1 the previous two seasons, so we can see where he was coming from (assuming he didn’t actually see any of that World Cup). We’re still not sure what his excuse for Andy Carroll is, though. In any case, Guivarc’h makes his way in here based purely on the ‘strength’ of his performances in France’s 1998 success.
Having been given the coveted number 9 shirt by Les Bleus boss Aime Jacquet, Guivarc’h must have thought his boyhood dreams were coming true…right up until he was substituted after 26 minutes of France’s opening game against South Africa and subsequently dropped for their second game against Saudi Arabia.
Guivarc’h would appear in all of his side’s remaining matches as they went on to lift the trophy on home soil, and he was hauled off in every single one that he started. He didn’t score a single goal in the tournament and ended his international career with one goal in 14 appearances — he netted the first in a 2-1 friendly win over South Africa in 1997. It wasn’t a bad hit, to be fair.
Nowadays, Guivarc’h sells swimming pools, so if you’ve got some cash lying around and some space in your back garden, give the lad a shout and he’ll hook you up — maybe get somebody else to finish the job, though.
5. Chris Iwelumo
Unfortunately for Chris Iwelumo, the minute you type “Iwel” into YouTube, it will provide you with the option you’re most likely looking for: “Iwelumo miss.” It would have been a bad chance to pass up in any scenario, but when you’re on as a sub for your international debut in a key World Cup qualifier which went on to end 0-0, it’s worse. Far worse.
Gary Naysmith had done all the hard work for the then 30-year-old Wolves frontman when he squared a ball across the six-yard box that took the Norway defence and goalkeeper out of the game. Yet, faced with an open goal, Iwelumo got his feet mixed up and somehow directed the ball wide from three yards when it seemed impossible to miss the target.
The lad would torture himself for days afterwards watching the replay repeatedly until his missus made him delete it from their Sky Plus Box.
Iwelumo would only make a further three appearances for Scotland after this, failing to score in each one, so he was never able to atone for his glaring error — though he did play in Diego Maradona’s first game in charge of Argentina, a 1-0 loss for the Scots at Hampden Park. Yeah, that’s as much positivity as we can find for Iwelumo here.