The annals of football history have long been filled with that most notorious of beast – the one season wonder. The player who arrives, raises hell in his new league for the one solitary season, before disappearing off into the sunset, never to be seen again.
Whether it be down to injury, transfer or just plain loss of form, there is a list as long as your arm of players who were terrific…but for just one season. For every long-term legend like Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry or Ryan Giggs, there is a Michael Ricketts, a Marcus Stewart and a Michael Bridges.
But what of that even rarer of beast – The Half Season Wonder?!? Those, who from out of nowhere, produce a few scarce months of super-human brilliance before falling off the radar as they eventually succumb to a more unexceptional level. Ladies and gentleman, the time has now come too finally ‘out’ the five greatest half-season wonders…
In the summer of 2008, it largely went unnoticed when then Wigan manager Steve Bruce completed the loan signing of the apparent Egyptian goal-machine, Amr Zaki. Looking like the playboy son of a Mediterranean shipping magnate, Zaki could easily have been mistaken by many as just another cheap foreign signing acquired as a result of an overinflated domestic market. If they did, they were wrong.
He scored at Upton Park on his debut, before following it up with an impressive brace as Wigan humped new-boys Hull City 5-0. The goals continued to flow throughout the autumn as Dave Whelan and Steve Bruce regularly hijacked Sky Sports News to relentlessly gush praise on their newly unearthed gem. Many heads were soon being turned by the impressive and imposing Egyptian banging them in for Wigan. As the season progressed however, bizarrely, something seemed to change. As the winter arrived, Zaki began to disappear and in turn the goals dried up.
As the season wore on, the Egyptian would try the patience of his club as he would regularly fail to return as agreed from international duty. By the spring the love affair was over and he was out, the now infamous spell of Amr Zaki at Wigan was over.
When Newcastle returned to the Premier League in 2010 after their one year hiatus in The Championship, there were many so-called experts who fancied The Magpies for a swift return back to the Football League. What many pundits failed to realise however, was that this new look Newcastle side had one very big secret weapon.
After taking a few weeks to find his feet following relegation, Andy Carroll pretty much took The Championship apart in his first full season as a first team regular; once Newcastle were promoted, he then did the same to the Premier League. During an unforgettable opening few months, Carroll was immense for Newcastle as he scored eleven goals in eighteen appearances. He was an unplayable beast that ruffled the feathers of some of the Premier League’s more preened feathers and it was not long before the big-boys took notice.
From then on all we all know the rest; £35 million quid later he was off to Liverpool for an ill-fated spell at Anfield, and his following move to West Ham has been nothing short of an injury-ravaged nightmare. As someone who watched Carroll develop from scrawny, young boy into one of the league’s most dominant and destructive centre-forwards, I sincerely hope that one day Andy gets back to his awesome best.
In the January of 2012 Everton were in dire need of a striker. As was typical of Everton during the Moyes era at Goodison, the Toffeemen were a solid and organised unit but were badly lacking a goal scorer. With funds limited, Everton took advantage of the ever worsening financial crisis at Rangers and acquired Croatian striker Nikica Jelavić for a reasonable £5.5million.
The signing soon looked a masterstroke as Jelavić banged in eleven goals in just sixteen appearances. That season Everton finished seventh and incredibly Jelavić finished as the clubs leading scorer after only having joined on 31st January. Ultimately though, it was a run of form that Jelavić was unable to carry forward and has since struggled for goals.
This season Jelavić barely played under Martinez and fell down the pecking order of strikers at Everton behind Arouna Koné, and of course Romelu Lukaku. Having recently made the move to Hull, Tigers fans will be hoping that now is the time for a second half-season goal blitz from the Croatian.
Even as I start writing this section on Andrei Arshavin it annoys me. It annoys me because I believe that Arshavin is one of the great unfulfilled talents of modern day football. Before memorably signing for Arsenal on deadline day in 2009, Andrei Arshavin was one of the hottest properties in European football.
The Russian playmaker with the world at his feet had pretty much been linked with virtually every big club going before finally making the £15 million move to the Emirates. Once he arrived there was no stopping him as the little Russian set the Premier League alight, most memorably with an incredible four-goal haul in a stunning performance at Anfield.
Sadly for Andrei, that night in Liverpool was as good as it got. In the four seasons that followed, Arshavin’s performances gradually got worse and worse until he was nothing more than a bit-part, squad player by the time he departed in 2013. Whilst many will always remember that amazing performance at Anfield, sadly, Andrei should have been remembered for so much more.
Perhaps the ultimate in half season wonders. When Newcastle signed Papiss Cisse in January of 2012, they badly needed a striker to help fill the £35million void left by Andy Carroll just one year earlier. With Demba Ba and Shola Ameobi as the only recognised forwards on the books, Papiss seemed to be the missing piece in the jigsaw as his astonishing displays helped propel Newcastle to a fifth place finish in 2012.
In just fourteen appearances after signing, Cisse scored an incredible thirteen goals, but it was more than just the quantity with Cisse – it was the quality. In that second half of the season he scored headers, chips, outside-the-box screamers, and of course it was all capped off by the famous, dipping, swerving volley at Stamford Bridge that rightfully took the Goal of the Season crown. In the season and a half since however, Papiss has looked a shell of his former self.
The goals have dried up and Cisse has spent much of this season warming the St James’ Park bench. Whether that half season was just a freak run of form, or whether Cisse can ever regain the ridiculous high standards set in 2012, still remains to be seen.