In the world of sports, no matter what league you follow, there have been many great athletes who have come to symbolize their respective sports. If you were asked to think of a personality or two to sum up each sport or league you’d likely have very little trouble. Basketball had Michael Jordan, baseball had Joe DiMaggio, American football had Joe Montana, hockey had Wayne Gretzky, auto racing had Juan Manuel Fangio and soccer had Pele. Of course there are many others you could substitute in for any one of these greats. Nonetheless, what makes such players so memorable is that they not only showed up for the game, match or competition, but they did it fairly consistently over their entire career. This why we remember certain athletes and others are left as a footnote in sport history.
In world soccer there have been many great and memorable players who have left their mark at the club and national levels. Paolo Maldini, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Johann Cruyff, Bobby Charlton, Diego Maradona and Franz Beckenbauer – just a few of the many great footballers whose name any fan would recognize. Their successes weren’t limited to a game or two here and there. No, these types of players consistently showed up, put in the effort and won a lot of national, club and individual awards in the process. Players such as these are at the high end of the footballing spectrum. We can have endless debates over who is/was the greatest but we can at least all agree that names such as these should be included in any discussion. What about the other end of the spectrum?
For every Pele or Zidane who graced the pitch, there were dozens of players who were pretty average or worse. Of course, there have been many players who have given us glimpses of greatness or potential only to end up disappointing us in the long term. These are the one-hit wonders of the footballing world. Like Right Said Fred, Dee-Lite, Sir Mix-a-Lot and Vanilla Ice, these players have come forward to give us an “Ice Ice Baby” hit season only to follow it up with a “Go Ninja Go” career – look it up if you have to. This list looks at the one-hit wonders who have graced the pitch. They aren’t necessarily all terrible players, as most enjoyed decent careers. However, there is no doubting they built a reputation on one good period in their career and never reached those same heights ever again.
20 Greece 2004
Ok, so this one isn’t a player but a whole team. That said, Greece shocked a lot of people to come from nowhere and win the 2004 European Cup. Yes, they had a core of players who were doing well in the Greek domestic league but they were not even considered outside favorites. Nonetheless, the Greek side did their best impression of the New Jersey Devils from the 1990s and played a very defensive game which saw them squeak into the knockout round and win their final three matches, all by a score of 1-0. Greece won their first major trophy and it’s a good bet none of us will ever see that happen again in our lifetime.
19 Ali Dia
Not really a one-hit wonder in the traditional sense, it can be argued the Senegalese “footballer” enjoyed hit status until he took to the pitch. In late 1996, a friend of Dia called Southampton manager Graham Souness and convinced him that Dia was the cousin of footballing great George Weah. Souness took the bait and signed Dia. The new signing made his first, and only, appearance for Southampton against Leeds in November 1996. Substituted on in the first half, it was quickly apparent that Dia was to football what Rebecca Black’s “Friday” is to music. The forward was so terrible he was subbed off before the end of the game and never graced a top-flight pitch again.
18 Milos Krasic
Serbian winger Milos Krasic was supposed to be one of the next ‘big things’ when he moved to Juventus from CSKA Moscow in 2010. Sporting a euro-mullet, Krasic had made a real name for himself in the Russian Premier League where he scored 13 goals in all competitions in 2009. Juventus, unfortunately, soon figured out they had purchased a one-hit wonder. Since leaving Moscow, Krasic has again tallied 13 goals in all competitions. It just took him four seasons to do it.
17 Antonio Nocerino
If Italian born Antonio Nocerino had remained an out-and-out defensive midfielder, he may not have been placed on this list. In 2009, he started to be played in a more offensive role. His success looks to have topped out in the 2011-12 season where he scored 10 goals for Milan and was named the signing of the season. Since then he hasn’t even come close to achieving the same level of success and has moved on to unproductive spells at West Ham United and Torino.
16 James Beattie
From 1996 to 2013, James Beattie played for several clubs in England. He enjoyed several spells in the top flight and probably had his best moments with Southampton. In 2002-03, the English striker scored 24 goals for the Saints. It was the height of his career and the only time he would come close to breaking the 20 goal barrier in the top flight. Yes, he did it while in the Championship, but that doesn’t count here – only top flight competition. Otherwise I’d put myself on this list for scoring five goals in a single men’s league match.
15 Francis Jeffers
Francis Jeffers is often included in any discussion of transfer flops. He can also be included in list about footballing one-hit wonders. Ok, he didn’t have a great career at Everton but he was consistent. From 1998 to 2001 he scored six league goals in each of the three seasons playing between 15 and 20 games a season. Apparently Arsene Wenger and Arsenal were interested in the English striker and saw him as a potential ‘fox in the box.’ A fox Jeffers was not, as he managed only four goals in two full seasons with the Gunners.
14 Henrik Larsen
Before you get upset, re-read the name. Don’t confuse this player with Henrik Larsson, the Swedish and Celtic legend. Henrik Larsen was a Danish midfielder who made a name for himself at the 1992 Euro Cup. Denmark won the tournament that year and it put every Danish player on the transfer radar as clubs looked to sign these new stars. Larsen received extra attention as he was joint top scorer in the competition. Aston Villa picked him up in January 1993 thinking they had a real winner on their hands. His performances were dismal. Villa looked to offload the Dane but no one was interested and Larsen sat in the team reserves for the rest of the season.
13 Federico Macheda
Federico Macheda’s one-hit status comes thanks not to a spell at any given team, nor a single good season. Instead, the Italian enjoyed one big moment in a game for Manchester United which caused him to become over-hyped by fans and media to a point he has never lived up to. In 2009, Manchester United were drawing with Aston Villa 2-2 at Old Trafford. Dropped points would have meant a very tight run in to the season finale for the Red Devils. Macheda, on as a substitute, scored with a fantastic curling shot in injury time to secure the three points and near-legendary status for himself.
12 Alfonso Alves
Currently a free-agent, Brazilian striker Alfonso Alves has been playing professionally since 2001. Between 2006 and 2008, Alves garnered much attention when he scored 45 goals in 39 league matches for Dutch side Heerenveen. Middlesbrough of the English Premier League acted fast and swooped in for the striker’s signature in January 2008. The team and fans expected big things from their new goal-scoring machine. Unfortunately, Middlesbrough found out they had just purchased a one-hit wonder when Alves managed only 10 league goals over the next year and a half.
11 Roque Santa Cruz
In the early 2000s, Roque Santa Cruz made a name for himself with Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. The Paraguayan striker never had a ‘breakout’ season to speak of, yet he was consistently netting several goals per season. Blackburn swooped in to sign Santa Cruz for the 2007-08 season and were rewarded with a 20 goal performance. Then it all went downhill. The 33 year old has never come close to finding the form he displayed in his inaugural season with the Rovers. He currently plays for Malaga in La Liga where production is back to the levels he displayed while at Bayern Munich.
This is really a 2-for-1 deal if we package Brazilian striker Grafite and his one fantastic year with Wolfsburg in 2008-09. During this season, Wolfsburg won their first and only Bundesliga title – it may be a long time until that happens again. In any event, Brazilian striker Grafite had a career-best season notching 35 goals in all competitions. He, and Wolfsburg, didn’t come close to the heights of the 2008-09 season for the following campaigns. Yes, Grafite has had three very good years playing in the United Arab Emirates, but we can’t really count that on this list as a ‘top flight’ competition.
9 Michael Ricketts
Michael Ricketts is an English striker who played in England from 1995 to 2010. His best spell as a footballer came while playing for Bolton from 2000 to 2002. Ricketts was instrumental in helping the Wanderers get back into the Premier League and in the 2001-02 season contributed with 15 goals in all competitions. After that, his form and goals vanished which usually spells the end for a striker. Ricketts has bounced around several teams in several leagues over the last decade but has never again reached the form he displayed with Bolton.
8 John Jensen
Like the Loch Ness Monster or Sasquatch, seeing John Jensen score has taken on mythical status. The Danish midfielder benefitted massively from Denmark’s performance in the ’92 Euro Cup. Jensen scored the winning goal against Germany in the final of that competition. Arsenal moved quickly to secure his services in the summer of 1992 and probably look back now and wonder why. In 99 league matches, the Dane managed just one goal for the Gunners. Jensen and his solitary goal became a bit of a comical legend as fans are often seen wearing shirts that say “I saw John Jensen score.” He moved on to play for other clubs but never scored more than a couple goals in any given season and never lived up to the hype created from Euro ’92.
Another one-hit wonder created during an international tournament, Josimar came out of nowhere during the 1986 World Cup in Brazil. For several days, the mysterious Brazilian captured the headlines. Introduced after an injury to Edson Boaro, Josimar scored an absolute stunner against Northern Ireland before topping that with an even better individual effort against Poland. Just as quickly as those goals raised the defender into the headlines, he disappeared. Poor club form and continual run-ins with the law meant Josimar never again achieved anything close to the glory of Mexico ’86.
6 Mario Stanic
Croatian midfield-forward Mario Stanic is like a mini-one-hit wonder wrapped in a bigger one. First, his ‘big’ one-hit wonder moment came during the 1995-96 season with Club Brugge where Stanic scored a league leading 20 goals. This was followed with a few seasons at Parma where he scored 19 league goals in 77 appearances. His ‘mini’ one-hit wonder moment came in the summer of 2000 when he moved to Stamford Bridge. He impressed the Chelsea faithful with a brace in his opening game. Stanic followed up his fantastic debut with just five more league goals for the Blues in the next 58 games.
5 Kevin Phillips
Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, Michael Owen, Robin Van Persie and Didier Drogba – all players who have won the Golden Boot for being the highest scorer in the Premier League. Kevin Phillips is also included on this list. In 1999-00, Phillips scored an impressive 30 league goals for Sunderland in the top flight. He never came close to that figure ever again. Now 41 years old, the striker did enjoy a lot of success in the Championship where had a few 20+ goal seasons. However, he is considered a one-hit wonder because he could never replicate anything like that Golden Boot form at the highest level ever again.
4 Andy Carroll
Poor Andy Carroll. The big forward had so much promise and so much potential when he was with Newcastle United. He was immense in helping Newcastle get back into the Premier League in 2010 and looked set to continue his ways with 11 goals in 19 matches. In January 2011, Liverpool sold Fernando Torres and were desperate for a replacement. Liverpool’s money and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley’s greed and poor decision making led to Carroll’s departure to Merseyside. He’s never come close to showing the form he had with Newcastle and is now plagued by injuries which make it look like he’s destined for one-hit wonder status.
3 Oleg Salenko
Russian striker Oleg Salenko enjoyed a very good early career with Dynamo Kiev and now-defunct Spanish side Logrones. Then 1994 came along. Salenko became the talk of the footballing world when he scored five goals against Cameroon during the World Cup in the USA. He ended up with six goals and the Golden Boot. Valencia came knocking for his services but the Russian’s club and international career tanked after the performance and he never hit the heights set in the early 1990s.
2 Salvatore Schillaci
Remember the band Toto? No, well you probably have heard their one hit ‘Africa.’ Salvatore Schillaci is another one-hit wonder – in the international soccer world. No one outside of Italy knew much about the striker until he came on in the 1990 World Cup against Austria. He ended up scoring the winning goal and went on to add another five to his World Cup record. The Golden Boot winner of the 1990 World Cup, Schillaci only added one more goal to his international tally before retirement. So what does an Italian striker have to do with the musical band I referenced just a few sentences ago? Schillaci’s nickname is ‘Toto.’
1 Marco Negri
In 1997, Scottish League side Rangers purchased Italian striker Marco Negri from AC Perugia. The Rangers faithful must have thought they struck the motherload after Negri’s first season. The striker struck for an impressive 32 goals in his first season on Scottish soil. Like a true one-hit wonder, that was as good as it ever got. Injuries, loan moves and a drop in form meant Negri never came close to that level of play again. The best he ever managed again was 8 league goals in 2002-03 with Livorno – four times fewer than he had notched in his inaugural season with Rangers.