Ali Dia, the fraudster – Contrasti Magazine

The biggest cheater in the history of English football.

Argentine coach Cesar Luis Menotti loved to succinctly define the game of football as the combination of three concepts that have become cornerstones: “time, space and deception.”“. own the deceptionthe art of evasion and deception, represents perhaps its most fascinating side, an aspect that defines it football so imponderable and ethereal. But deceptions in football don't always happen on the field. It's not always a disarming feint or a psychological game. Sometimes the deception actually extends beyond the ninety minutes, dissolves and takes on the tragicomic dimension illusion. Sometimes a scam is so well planned that it results in epic events that border on the mythological.

Like that of Ali Diathe most famous – after King John – Impostors of England; or, as the English newspapers put it, “the greatest cheater in the history of football.”. Let's rewind the tape.

It's November 1996 and Graeme Souness's Southampton are navigating the Premier League slums after a negative start to the season. The Saints need a technical and emotional shock to raise the morale of those around them. One day, Souness himself receives an important call: it's George Weah. Yes, the new Ballon d'Or winner himself, who, after the usual pleasantries, reveals the reason for the phone call: as contact person Weah Souness suggests signing his cousin, one Ali Dia. According to Weah, Dia would be the perfect coup for Southampton: He is a 30-year-old, experienced center forward, fast and very agile, who has top-class experience such as at Paris Saint-Germain and in the Bundesliga. as well as in the Senegalese national team.

Souness, desperate for oxygen to revive the rankings, sees Weah's suggestion as a potential opportunity and decides to take the advice. As, Dia has a monthly contract. When he shows up at the Staplewood training ground, it is already Friday and there is little time to assess his actual stability. The reserve team's game against Arsenal was postponed due to a storm and so Souness, lacking attacking players, decided to trust his instincts and called him up for the important home game against Leeds the following day.

As expected, Dia starts from the bench. But then, in the 32nd minute, Matt Le Tissier, the club's leader and undisputed legend, started complaining about muscle problems. There's little you can do: it has to be replaced. And guess who the only striker available to replace him is? Only he, Ali Dia, taking over with the number 33 on his shoulders, cheered by an audience completely unaware of his qualities, but confident nonetheless.

Of course, replacing the most influential player in the club's history at the start can't be easy, dealing with the pressure and looking for opportunities. But fate seems to have something in store for Dia. Less than a minute after coming on, Berkovic pushes himself to the edge of the box after a quick Saints counterattack and prepares a perfect ball on the right, straight to the Senegalese striker, who is completely alone in the box. This is his chance. Dia hits flatly, not even overly clumsy or uncoordinated, but without the power necessary to beat the goalkeeper who blocks it.

Part of Ali Dia's incredible story

The plot fades, and like a spell that breaks, she too breaks Dia's deception is finally exposed in all its absurdity. In the remaining minutes he spends on the field, Dia will make it clear to everyone that he is not only far from the level of his vaunted cousin Weah, but also from the level of a professional player. The rough and clumsy touch of the ball, the complete lack of sense of position, the constant delay in understanding where the ball is going to go: a headless chickenas the English say, completely on their own, wandering around the camp without meaning or purpose.

“He was like running around the field Bambi on ice. It was very, very embarrassing to watch. We said to ourselves: CWhat is he doing? It is hopeless».

Matt Le Tissier, in the special documentary

The embarrassment begins to reveal itself and floods the stadium until Souness decides to replace him – as a substitute – with a defender, thus ending what is being renamed: “the worst performance in Premier League history“. It will be the last time his teammates see him. In fact, after another half, he suddenly found himself playing with the reserve team against Chelsea Dia disappears without paying the hotel bill where he stayed. He will end his “career” in the depths of the English minor leagues, scoring just four goals in nine years, but will look back on a legendary presence in the Premier League.

“He certainly didn’t lack confidence. I remember sitting with him and talking about his days at Paris Saint-Germain and his friendship with David Ginola. Another person from the club who knew Ginola was sitting there at the same time and called him. When he answered, Ali ran away. It was obvious that he was very good at telling stories!

Egil Johan Østenstad, former Southampton player

We'll never know Who was behind this receiver?, posed as George Weah and invented the CV of Ali Dia – who, before landing at Southampton, had played around twenty professional games in his career, mainly in the French, English and Finnish minor leagues (before the Saints, the triumphant experience with Blyth). Spartans in the seventh tier of English football, peppered with a good presence). Certainly the doubt that it was a fraud could have been raised in Souness's mind, considering that Weah is Liberian and his alleged cousin is Senegalese. But it's similar details that make this one even more romantic storyDaughter of a context of bygone times, a historic Premier League, light years away from the gigantic money-making machine it is today.

A context in which the world was not yet so connected, in which scams of this kind were possible because they couldn't Google, and scouting was often limited to watching videotapes – or getting a good old recommendation from someone. A context in which Ali Dia, who has now graduated and works in Qatar As a businessman, he fits in perfectly and becomes a cult figure. Ali Dia, is a liar, is a liar, Saints fans still sing ironically today as they think back on this story, which has rightly entered the annals of the Premier League. Surely more than one, certainly even Dia himself, will wonder what would have happened if he had scored that simple opportunity a minute after coming on.

Maybe everything would have changed, even more likely nothing, maybe the story would have become even more surreal. Also because the limits of this story tend more and more to become a legend in the popular narrative that transmits it. So every now and then someone makes an effort to remind us that it's all true, like Kelly Naqi. The latter chose Bleacher Report in 2016 Looking for Ali Dia, until we reach Dieuppeul-Derkle on the outskirts of Dakar. Here he spoke (with an interpreter in tow, of course) with Ali Dia's friends, relatives and parents, and his mother also let him in and sat down.

“Someone told us about it (from Southampton, editor's note) and then I went on the internet and saw it. But [Aly] he never told us about it. Even now he never talks about it. He never told us, he never talked to us about it. It's like we're being suffocated by this story.

Naqi will then not be able to find Ali, but he will contact him after a few days and explain to him that he is now concentrating on something else, that he has big tasks ahead of him and that he has changed his life. And in any case he never lied: “I have a clear conscience. God will be our judge». Perhaps only he can explain the incredible story of Ali Dia from Dakar.

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