Ronnie O’Brien: Juventus’ strangest signing, ‘Particular person of the Century’ candidate and soccer’s earliest web meme

The previous attacking midfielder might not be identified to many soccer followers however the Irishman is a cult hero because of his weird profession

For our youthful readers, notably these born after the flip of the Millenium, the identify Ronnie O’Brien could not imply a lot. Which makes the story of a person who performed for Juventus after being launched by Middlesbrough, and who virtually received Time journal’s Particular person of the Century award, much more worthwhile to inform. The story of how O’Brien virtually appeared on the entrance cowl of Time is one which noticed him turn into one of many first footballing memes, amid a motion which might not look misplaced on Twitter in 2022.

The distinguished American publication ran a web-based ballot to find out their Particular person of the Century award. Luminaries from tradition and politics, from Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill to Elvis Presley and Albert Einstein, have been on the listing.

Nevertheless, Time additionally allowed an choice for folks to submit their very own nominations – and amid one of many first main incidents of a web-based pattern hijacking a public vote, O’Brien quickly led the vote.

Time nevertheless shut down the enjoyable, eradicating O’Brien and altering the foundations. “Whimsical candidates who don’t fall throughout the spirit of the title won’t be counted,” was their sniffy response. Einstein received the vote as a substitute.

For O’Brien, it was simply one among a number of odd occasions in a profession fairly not like every other skilled footballer.

Born in Bray, Republic of Eire, O’Brien impressed in youth soccer in his house nation as an attacking midfielder, and was signed on the age of 18 by Championship promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough in 1997.

Whereas O’Brien had success at youth worldwide stage – Eire received the 1998 UEFA Below-16 Euros, a workforce containing John O’Shea beating Italy 2-1 within the ultimate – he couldn’t make the breakthrough for his membership.

Certainly, Boro supervisor Bryan Robson by no means gave him a first-team debut.

Ronnie O


O’Brien was, thus, launched in summer time 1999, and should have been seeking to discover his ft within the English decrease tiers and search first workforce possibilities.

Nevertheless, his agent Steve Kutner – who additionally represented O’Brien’s Boro team-mate Paul Merson – despatched a videotape of his highlights to a number of the largest golf equipment in Europe, together with Juventus.

The Previous Girl have been satisfied, and so it was that O’Brien signed a five-year contract for the workforce managed by Carlo Ancelotti.

He turned the third Irishman to signal for Juve, after 1910s midfielder Matts Kunding, and extra currently the ex-Arsenal star Liam Brady.

The information of one among their fringe gamers being snapped up by Italian giants prompted shockwaves on Teesside. A slightly rattled Robson was not impressed by the notion O’Brien was one who acquired away.

“Ronnie O’Brien is just not ok,” mentioned the Boro boss. “Folks leap to the ceiling as a result of he has gone to Juventus, however he hasn’t completed something but. Good luck to him. I hope he does very well and proves me fallacious.”

Summer season 1999 was a time of flux at Juve. Their squad did function some all-time greats, together with Zinedine Zidane, Edgar Davids and Alessandro Del Piero, nevertheless different first workforce stalwarts Didier Deschamps and Angelo Peruzzi had moved on.

With the Intertoto Cup to take care of in July and August, Ancelotti was ready to experiment along with his first workforce squad.

After showing in three friendlies, O’Brien was named on the bench for clashes with Romanian facet Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt, earlier than getting his massive probability towards Russian membership FC Rostselmash – now referred to as FC Rostov – within the second leg of their semi-final conflict.

O’Brien was launched for the ultimate 13 minutes when Juve have been already 9-1 up on combination, however the grainy footage from the sport reveals him making use of himself effectively: motoring up and down the appropriate wing, profitable a free kick on the sting of the Rostselmash field earlier than placing in a key block deal with within the Juve space to finish a Russian assault.

He maybe ought to have gotten on the scoresheet, however skewed two pictures effectively extensive, whereas his finest probability noticed Pippo Inzaghi flick a lofted go over the defence, just for the younger Irishman to present solution to the onrushing Del Piero.

It was O’Brien’s shot to hit – he was in a a lot better place and had solely the keeper to beat from six yards – nevertheless, Del Piero hit the shot, and along with his physique off-balance, screwed it previous the far submit.