Saturday 5th April 1997 was the day that Paulo Wanchope wrote his name into Derby County folklore.
An unknown Costa Rica international striker signed from Herediano in his homeland for £600,000 only days beforehand, Wanchope took little time in introducing himself to the Derby faithful.
Jim Smith was the man that brought Wanchope to England and he demonstrated his faith in the striker, then 20, by naming him in the starting line-up in Derby’s Premiership fixture away to Manchester United.
Ashley Ward had put them 1-0 up just before the half hour and, only six minutes later, Wanchope took centre stage with a moment of sheer magic.
After receiving a pass from Darryl Powell inside his own half, he let his feet do the talking.
He burst forward, past defender after defender before, eventually, stroking the ball into the far corner past the helpless Peter Schmeichel, who would turn out to be a future team-mate of his, from just inside the box with his right foot.
It sounds so simple, but it certainly wasn’t. It was a moment of pure genius.
Derby went on to win 3-2, memorably, with Dean Sturridge the other goalscorer in what was Derby’s first season back in the top-flight under the Bald Eagle.
Wanchope’s goal is still talked about to this day and in 2009 as part of the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations it was voted as the best Derby’s history.
Last month, Wanchope was back in Derby and visited Pride Park Stadium as a special guest when Phillip Cocu’s side defeated Luton Town 2-0 in the Sky Bet Championship.
The 43-year-old also took time to sit down with RamsTV to conduct the latest instalment of the popular ‘RamsTV Meets’ series and revealed his emotions leading up to his debut in a Derby shirt.
“I knew I was going to play in that game the day before and that was quite a surprise for me,” he explained to RamsTV’s Colin Gibson.
“I couldn’t sleep that night. I was very anxious waiting for the time to come around to play the game.
“The curious thing was that I played that game on the right-hand side as a midfielder and I wasn’t picked to play as a striker. Jim Smith told me that I was able to play on the right side and I said it doesn’t matter, I would’ve played as a goalkeeper because I wanted to play
“The shock was the day before more than on that day as I was focused on the game. I felt nervous when I was on the coach going into the stadium, but Jim Smith had a nice touch.
“He asked what kind of music I liked. I told him I was into salsa music and he asked if I had something so we could put it on the bus. From there, I just felt like I was at home. We were laughing, we were singing and everyone was trying to dance. I was with the boys and we just forgot about the game.
“I must say that when I was getting ready for the game and doing the warm-up, I was looking out at the ground and couldn’t believe how big it was. I remember watching all the United players; Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel for example and I was thrilled to be there.”
He added: “It was my dream come true. When I was a child in Costa Rica, it was my dream to play with and against the best players. To be there was a special moment.”
Even though the goal was scored just over 22 years ago, Wanchope remembers it as if it was yesterday.
He believes being an unknown quantity played a key role in how the events unfolded, particularly as the United defence stood off as he charged towards the edge of the penalty area.
He said: “I just made a diagonal run with the ball.
“Mainly because they didn’t know about Paulo Wanchope, they let me go on and probably thought ‘maybe he will lose the ball’.
“I went straight through. It was a great run by Dean Sturridge which played a big part as he opened up the space for me to keep going.
“Once I got right at the edge of the box I tried to shoot and get the ball down to the side of Peter Schmeichel.
“After that you could see my face and the big surprise of what I had done.
“It was something very, very special to make an impact in England in my first game. All the memories from your childhood and all your friends and family come flooding back.”
Wanchope says that the management of Smith, on and off the field, helped him develop as a person and a player.
He is forever in debt for the way the Bald Eagle took him under his wing.
“I need to thank Jim a lot because he made me a better professional, a better player, a better person and that is the best thing,” he said.
“When you have a manger who really cares about you, not only on the pitch, but outside of the game.”
Wanchope scored 28 goals in 83 appearances for Derby in total.
After leaving in 1999 he turned out for West Ham United, Manchester City and Malaga before returning to Herediano to wind down his playing career.
He went on to become their manager and also had a spell managing the national side during 2014 and 2015 and as part of his return to Derby in October, he observed some of the Rams’ training sessions under manager Phillip Cocu.
Want to hear more from Paulo Wanchope? Catch the full interview with the legendary former Derby County striker on RamsTV Meets!