“Wanchope took them on down the middle and as Schmeichel came out he picked his spot and United look absolutely second rate.”


Twenty-three years later, the vision of Paulo Wanchope taking the ball from his own half, charging down the middle of the pitch making four Manchester United defenders seemingly part ways as he burst into the box to stroke the ball past Peter Schmeichel, is still as clear as it was in 1997 when the Rams, who were battling to survive in the Premiership, took down the top-flight giants.

For the striker, who dreamed of playing with and against the best players in the world growing up in Costa Rica, couldn’t have dreamed for a better debut for Derby County and announce his entrance to English football - which was 23 years ago today.

“I knew I was going to play that game the day before and that was quite a surprise for me,” Wanchope told RamsTV Meets.

I couldn’t sleep that night, I was very anxious waiting for the time to play the game. The curious thing was, Jim Smith told me that I would play on the right side and I said it doesn’t matter, I would play as a goalkeeper because I wanted to play.

“I felt nervous when I was on the coach going into the Stadium, but Jim Smith had a nice touch. He said: ‘what kind of music do you like?’ I said that I like 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.”


He added: “I must say that when I was getting ready for the game and doing pre-match, I was looking out at the ground and how big it was, watching all the United players – like Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel – I was thrilled to be there.

"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. It is 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 made the move to Derby County with his compatriot, Mauricio Solís, from their hometown club, Herediano just days before that game at Old Trafford and were two of the first from their nation to play professional football in England.

After Queens Park Rangers passed up the chance to sign him, despite Wanchope scoring six goals in three games on trial there, Jim Smith took the gamble on signing them and the 43-year-old will always be grateful to him.


“He had a great balance,” he explained.

“It helped me a lot to work with him and he wanted to make me a better player and to take things seriously, not too many flick-ons!

"I thank him a lot because he made me a better professional, a better player, a better person and that is the best thing. When you have a manger who really cares about you, not only on the pitch, but outside of the game, that is special.”

Paulo Wanchope scored 28 goals in 83 appearances for Derby in total between March 1997 and July 1999.