Sometimes football just throws up anomalies, whether it’s Leicester City winning the Premier League or Fulham and Middlesbrough making European finals, yet nothing quite beats the mystery of the one-season wonder.
Sadly for football, one of English football’s best one-season wonders hung up his boots recently, former Swansea City striker Michu ending his career at just aged 31 and just four years since the career of his life, scoring 22 goals and leading the line as the Swans won their first major English honour the League Cup.
Whilst everyone loves players that consistently hit 30 goals, there’s something of a cult hero admiration of players that have one great season and then fail to live up to the hype ever again.
Whether it’s reminiscing about the wonder goal they scored, the time they were capped by their country or even the amount of points they won you on your Fantasy League team after picking them up on the cheap, everybody has their own favourite one-hit wonder.
Since the early days, the Premier League has thrown up many a one-season wonder, whether it be Ghanian sensation Tony Yeboah who smashed in goal of the season efforts for fun at Leeds United or the likes of Kevin Phillips scoring 30 goals in his first top flight season, all sadly, have felt the blow of a loss of form.
Even more recently, arguments could be made for Leicester’s Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, two of the Foxes key components of their unforeseen Premier League championship run but they’ve been omitted from this list, given that last season could just be a hangover from the year before.
Some were rewarded handsomely with new contracts, big money deals or England caps, all sadly disappointed in their next ventures, still, they have that one season they can dine out on.
Michu (Swansea City: 2012-13)
The king of the one-season wonder, Michu had in fairness had a decent season for Rayo Vallecano in La Liga scoring 17 goals in 39 games, but nobody quite tipped him for success when Michael Laudrup signed him for Swansea for £2m. In his first season he bagged 22 goals in 43 games (18 in 35 in the league) as the Swans won their first and only major English silverware to date - the League Cup. Recurring ankle injuries caused a lack of form and after reports of big money moves, Michu scored only six more goals for the South Wales side with a loan to Napoli ending disastrously too as he played only half a dozen times. After brief spells in the Spanish Second & Third Division he retired aged 31. Image Source: Twitter
Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn Rovers: 2007-08)
After modest success at Bayern Munich, scoring 43 goals in 238 games, winning five Bundesliga titles and the UEFA Champions League, the Paraguayan found himself in Lancashire under Mark Hughes at Blackburn Rovers. In his first season in the Premier League he scored 23 goals in 43 games and looked headed for a big move. Instead, he stayed in Blackburn for another season but couldn’t re-capture his form under Hughes’ successors Paul Ince and Sam Allardyce scoring six goals in 27 games in his second season in England. That didn’t stop Hughes throwing £17m at him in 2009 to sign him for Manchester City, in his two seasons at City he played 24 games and scored four goals and was eventually sold to Malaga after unsuccessful loans back to Blackburn and Real Betis. Image Source: Twitter
Stephen Ireland (Manchester City: 2008-09)
Having broken through pre-Sheikh Mansour, Ireland may have been expected to be one of the Manchester City stars to lose his place as the nouveau riche side splashed the cash, instead he seemed to relish it. In City’s first season under the new owners, the midfielder scored 13 goals in 50 games and linked up brilliantly with summer signing Robinho, being named Manchester City’s Player of the Year in 2009. Sadly, the sacking of Mark Hughes and the arrival of Roberto Mancini would spell the end of Ireland and he was sold to Aston Villa in 2010. Injuries have derailed his career since and he’s struggled to regain form and fitness even after linking back up with Hughes at Stoke. He hasn’t played for the Potters since May 2016 due to a broken leg keeping out of the entirety of last season. Image Source: Twitter
Kevin Phillips (Sunderland; 1999-00)
One of only seven players to hit 30+ goals in a Premier League season (and certainly the most bizarre), Phillips simply continued where he’d left off in his first Premier League season. In the First Division, he’d scored 52 goals in 69 games for the Black Cats as they finally sealed promotion back to the Premier League in 1999 and in the top flight, his partnership with big man Niall Quinn continued to be a fantasy football winner. Scoring 30 goals in 36 games, Peter Reid’s Sunderland finished 7th, just shy of a place in Europe. Phillips was only an unused substitute for England at Euro 2000 and his goal returns only decreased in the Premier League afterwards. He did enjoy a decent career in the Midlands after Sunderland and continued to find double figures in the Championship. Image Source: Twitter
Marcus Stewart (Ipswich Town; 2000-01)
Having only joined Ipswich in the finishing straight of their promotion season, Stewart was vital in the Tractor Boys promotion to the Premier League with goals in the play-off semi-finals and final. He was also a huge factor in their best season since the Sir Bobby Robson days, as Ipswich finished fifth in 2001 and Stewart was behind only Chelsea’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in the Golden Boot standings, having scored 19 goals. Sadly his great form wouldn’t end in an England call-up and it also wouldn’t last, as Ipswich were relegated the next season and Stewart only managed six goals. He joined Sunderland in 2002 and although was relegated in 2003, finished top scorer as they secured their return to the top flight in 2005 but Stewart left before their ill-fated return to the top flight. Image Source: Twitter
Tony Yeboah (Leeds United; 1995-96)
The master of the underside of the ball striker, nobody struck a ball quite like the Ghanian who bagged two Goal of the Season candidates in the opening weeks of his first full season at Elland Road. In his first 18 months in England he scored 32 goals in 59 games and was part of the Leeds team that made it to the League Cup final and was named the club's Player of the Year in 1996. Howard Wilkinson successor George Graham didn’t turn out to be Yeboah’s biggest fan and after being in and out of the Leeds team due to injury, he returned to Germany being sold to Hamburger SV in 1997. Image Source: Twitter
Michael Bridges (Leeds United; 1999-00)
Having sold Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to Atletico Madrid in 1999 for £10m, Leeds looked in dire need of a replacement, step forward 21-year-old Bridges who’d just helped Sunderland regain their Premier League status. In his second game with the Yorkshire side he hit a hat-trick at Southampton, the first of his 21 goals that season, in which he helped Leeds qualify for the UEFA Champions League and reach the UEFA Cup semi-finals. Sadly for Bridges, that would be the beginning of the end, an injury against Besiktas in the following season's Champions League group stages began a four-year spell of injuries which saw him make only 10 appearances for Leeds and he subsequently began a drop down the divisions. Image Source: Twitter
Andy Johnson (Crystal Palace; 2004-05)
Not many men dominated the Golden Boot as well as Thierry Henry did, winning it four out of five seasons between 2002 and 2006 and finishing second the other time. The usual suspects were all there running him close of course, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Alan Shearer but most shockingly of all, Andy Johnson. Not many relegated strikers score 10 goals let alone finish four shy of winning the Golden Boot. Johnson hit 22 goals in 38 games in his first top flight season and almost singlehandedly kept the Eagles up. He continued his form in the Championship and in 2006 he joined Everton for £8.6m but despite decent spells with the Toffees and later Fulham, he never found the form he did in his one Premiership season with Palace. Image Source: Twitter
Michael Ricketts (Bolton Wanderers; 2001-02)
Like many others, Ricketts was another player that continued his form where he left off after promotion. Having hit 24 goals for Bolton in their 2001 play-off promotion to the Premier League, he continued to be the match winner for Sam Allardyce’s team and hit 15 goals before February of his first Premier League season. His form was enough to earn a call-up for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England team for a pre-2002 FIFA World Cup friendly in February 2002 but he failed to look the part in his only 45 minutes of international football and subsequently failed to find the net again all season. After 7 goals in 23 games the next season, Allardyce sold Ricketts to Middlesbrough in January 2003 for a tidy £3.4m (a £3.1m profit) but the one-cap wonder never re-captured his form. Image Source: Twitter
Titi Camara (Liverpool; 1999-00)
Guinea’s most famous footballer, Camara was only a second-half substitute in Marseille’s 1999 UEFA Cup final defeat to Parma, but that didn’t stop him becoming a cult hero under Gerard Houllier at Anfield. In his short time at Anfield, he bagged 10 goals in 37 appearances, including the winner against West Ham just hours after the death of his father and later the winner at Highbury against Arsenal. With Emile Heskey joining the Reds in 2000, Camara was allowed to leave Liverpool by Houllier, joining West Ham for £1.5m where he’d play 14 times and failed to register a single goal for the Hammers. Image Source: Twitter