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The curious tale of the 1994 World Cup top goalscorer

All of Oleg Salenko's goals for Russia came in winning the 1994 World Cup golden boot

Fill the missing gap: Miroslav Klose, Ronaldo, Davor Suker ___________.

Unless your footballing memory is bordering on Rain Man levels you’re unlikely to remember Oleg Salenko.

But the 1994 World Cup top goalscorer, who preceded Suker, R9 and Klose in lifting the golden boot, has a unique story worthy of his own feature-length film.

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We miss the days when you could still wear chains during games

We miss the days when you could still wear chains during games

For starters, Salenko is the only player in the history of this game we know and love to win the golden boot at an Under-20 World Cup and senior World Cup.

He was part of the Soviet Union squad that went to the 1989 Under-20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia, scoring five goals in four games.

Five years later he scored six times in three games for Russia. He remains the only World Cup top goalscorer who didn’t make it past the group stages.

Two records down, but we’re not done there.

One Oleg Salenko, there’s only one Oleg Salenko

Allsport - Getty
One Oleg Salenko, there’s only one Oleg Salenko

Salenko only had one goal to his name heading into the final group game.

He’d come off the pitch without scoring in the 2-0 loss against Brazil before finding the back of the net against Sweden in a 3-1 loss.

But then Cameroon happened. Salenko scored five times in 60 minutes, the only man to achieve the haul in World Cup history.

Salenko’s feat well and truly took the shine off Roger Milla who, at the age of 42, came off the bench to become the World Cup’s oldest goalscorer.

At least they had the time to pose for a photo.

Get yourself a man who can do both

PA:Press Association
Get yourself a man who can do both

All of this came despite Salenko being a one-cap wonder for Ukraine, the nation he’d started his international career with in 1992.

It gets better.

You’d expect Salenko to push on and establish himself as one of Russia’s greats. But Salenko never scored another goal for Russia.

In fact he never played another game, ending his international career with eight caps and six goals to his name.

Going out in style

Going out in style

Injury played a major part in Salenko’s rapid fall from grace.

He had a disrupted spell at Valencia off the back of the ’94 World Cup, leading the line during a disappointing season in which Los Che finished 10th.

After one season in Spain he moved to Rangers, arriving in Scotland 16 days after Paul Gascoigne.

He started well, scoring seven times by January, but was moved on to Turkey after six months in a swap deal for the equally forgettable Peter van Vossen.

Don’t mind me, I’m just chilling on the goalposts

News Group Newspapers Ltd
Don’t mind me, I’m just chilling on the goalposts

That was essentially it for Salenko, who saw spells at Istanbulspor, Cordoba and Pogon Szczecin ruined by injury.

But, ever the maverick, two years after retiring from professional football he took over as the Ukraine national beach soccer team manager.

The flashiest of flashes in the pan lasted just three games as manager before, fittingly, moving on.

You wouldn’t have expected anything else, would you?

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