Five times superstars were left embarrassed by workhorses

Date published: Thursday 20th September 2018 6:57

James Milner and Neymar really got us thinking: how many other times have supposed superstars been put on their arse by far less illustrious players?

Before you get wound up about the use of the word ‘workhorse’ (it’s almost definitely too late for that), here is the definition:

‘a person or machine that dependably performs hard work over a long period of time’

Try telling us that doesn’t sound like the exact tattoo Milner would have on his chest – were he to be concerned with such flashy messages. It’s not an insult. Now read on…


James Milner v Neymar
Graeme Souness has never felt more alive. It was as if Paul Pogba had been clattered by Scott Brown before having his head shaved by Darren Fletcher, all while the soundtrack to ‘Braveheart’ played in the background.

In one corner, a 32-year-old free transfer. In the other, the most expensive player in history. It seemed like a mismatch of epic proportions, the sort often seen in the Champions League. But this was not a minnow hosting a champion; it was a hard-working and energetic Liverpool side against a lacklustre PSG.

To that end, James Milner and Neymar are the very souls of their respective clubs. And so the result of this clash was rather fitting, as the luxurious Titanic more than met its match in the unyielding iceberg. Think David versus Goliath, but where David just sticks the nut on Goliath in front of all his mates. Poetry in motion.


John O’Shea v Luis Figo
In terms of any one date, few have been more important through the years than April 23. It is Saint George’s Day, the date the first ever YouTube video was published in 2005, and the birthday of influential figures such as William Shakespeare, Shirley Temple and Victor Anichebe.

It is also one of the precious few times that a Ballon d’Or winner has been left red-faced by a 21-year-old Irishman in his first Champions League season as a regular first teamer. Sir Alex Ferguson himself stated after Manchester United’s 4-3 victory over Real Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final in 2001 that John O’Shea was “a big skinny lad, all skin and bone” two years prior. Yet loan spells with Second Division Bournemouth and Belgian side Royal Antwerp had steeled the County Waterford boy for the biggest test of his career at Old Trafford.

O’Shea passed with flying colours, his crowning moment unfortunately overshadowed by the brilliance of a Ronaldo hat-trick. It was in the eighth minute that, receiving the ball on the left-hand side, he played the ball through the tunnel-sized gap left between Figo’s legs, and proceeded to drive into midfield.

Possession was promptly lost, and Ronaldo gave the visitors the lead two minutes later. The rest of those in the stadium were presumably still watching, mouth agape at what had occurred previously.


Hal Robson-Kanu v Belgium
The clubs represented by goalscorers in the 2016 European Championship quarter-finals is a mixed bag. Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Juventus and Roma all had at least one player on the scoresheet, while Basel, Burnley, Nantes, Swansea and West Ham also saw their boys do them proud.

Hal Robson-Kanu was the odd one out. The striker was named in the Wales squad at the end of May, and was released by Reading after 12 years at the club by the end of June. One day after his contract officially expired, he was starting in a European Championship quarter-final.

As Gary Breen will happily attest, free agents can use major tournaments as the perfect shop window. Robson-Kanu maximised his opportunity in front of a global audience, collecting a pass from Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), bamboozling Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United) and Thomas Meunier (PSG) with a sensational Cruyff turn, and firing past Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea). It still feels awfully surreal.


Andrea Dossena v Edwin van der Sar
To both play for Leyton Orient and score against Real Madrid at separate stages of your career is the sort of thing generally left to Football Manager or FIFA saves. Even Harry Kane has only managed the former without yet proving capable of the latter. But Andrea Dossena is out here setting new benchmarks that the rest of us can only dream of reaching.

Dossena moved to Brisbane Road in November 2014, a full five and a half years after his confirming his status as a Liverpool cult hero. After Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard had combined to give Liverpool a 3-0 lead over Real Madrid in the second leg of their last-16 Champions League tie in March 2009, second-half substitute Dossena emerged with a bag full of icing and a cake waiting for the final touches to be applied.

Just four days later, the Italian would play a similar role in a similar thrashing. Torres and Gerrard were on the scoresheet again on their visit to Old Trafford, and Fabio Aurelio was kind enough to keep them company. With the score at 3-1, Dossena was introduced in the 67th minute. By the 90th, the left-back had quite inexplicably broken free of the United defence, before leaving Edwin van der Sar stranded with a sublime finish. It was one of United’s most humiliating defeats ever, with Dossena’s bemused celebratory face one of the primary reasons.

Dossena spent two years at Liverpool, and scored just two goals. They both came in the space of four days in four-goal victories against European powerhouses. He surely remembers relegation to League Two just as fondly.


Scott Hiley v Cristiano Ronaldo
“I’d pay to watch him. He has exceptional feet,” was Scott Hiley’s pre-match description of Cristiano Ronaldo. The 36-year-old journeyman defender would never usually have crossed paths with an uber-talented 19-year-old destined for stardom, but that famous old FA Cup magic ensured their fates aligned in January 2005.

Two weeks earlier, Hiley had been excellent for Exeter in a 0-0 third-round draw at Old Trafford. Ronaldo was rested, along with rest of the first-team squad, as Sir Alex Ferguson sent out Jonathan Spector, Eric Djemba-Djemba, David Jones, Chris Eagles and David Bellion to do his bidding. Ronaldo and Paul Scholes came on with 27 minutes remaining, but could not put the Conference side out of their misery.

Hiley and Exeter’s reward was a replay at St James’ Park, where the fairytale would finally end. Ronaldo and his “exceptional feet” handed United the lead in an eventual 2-0 win, yet Hiley would waste little time in exacting his revenge. A roar went up around the stadium as he casually played the ball between the Portuguese’s legs and went on his merry way.

“It seems like I ruined his career, didn’t I?” Hiley later recalled. “I completely ruined him – if that hadn’t happened, he might have gone on to be an exceptional player.”

Matt Stead


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