You simply can not ignore a phone call of George Weah who recommends you his cousin’s name to save your struggling side. Neither did Graeme Souness!! One of Premier League’s all-time legends decided not to crosscheck the credentials of a certain Ali Dia and signed him on a one-month contract.
Folklore of Ali Dia is still considered the greatest ever hoax of Premier League’s history. Graeme Souness, the former Liverpool player and gaffer, was having a tough time with Southampton and finding it hard to retain top flight status. On November 1996, he received a phone call claiming to be Liberian international and former FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or winner George Weah, who suggested him to buy Dia. He told Souness that Dia has played for Paris St. Germain and appeared 13 times for Senegal national team. He has been exploring his options in English football while many top outfits have approached him already. Souness gave no second thought to it and acquired his services.
But the whole story instigated from a prank call made by a fellow university student of Dia. Dia, who previously played in lower divisions of France and Germany and had failed trials with Port Vale, Gillingham and Bournemouth before joining non-league club Blyth Spartans where he made only one substitute appearance, bluffed his way into Premier League and was named in the bench against Leeds United. He was incredibly introduced at around 32nd minutes mark when Matthew Le Tissier, the Saints legend, was forced to leave the field with thigh muscle strain.
The rest is history! Le Tissier recollects his memories of watching Dia from the bench. He was terribly bad and was taken off in the 85th minute. Leeds scored twice meanwhile and Southampton suffered a defeat.
As per Le Tissier’s words,
“His performance was almost comical. He kind of took my place, but he didn’t really have a position. He was just wondering everywhere. I don’t think he realised what position he was supposed to be in. I don’t even know if he spoke English – I don’t think I ever said a word to him. In the end he got himself subbed because he was that bad.”
Dia came in for treatment on Sunday as per the physio and was instructed to report again on the following day. But he was gone by then and they never ever saw him again.
He then joined non-league outfit Gateshead and played eight games there. Later, he had a brief spell with another non-league team Spennymoor United and never been in news since then.
Recently, Dia was interviewed by Bleacher Report on the occasion of 20th year of his infamous Premier League appearance. Dia is a London based businessman now and stated he was a capable footballer and impressed Souness on trial to earn a spot in the first team.
‘They have portrayed me as a liar, and that is bull.’
‘I earned the spot to be there. You are in for tomorrow, be ready. I was not expecting to start. Then the next thing you know, Le Tissier gets injured and I go in. No warm-ups, I just go in.’
However, the legend of Ali Dia still remains one of Premier League’s most bizarre stories of all time and Le Tissier still seems to be anguished over that twenty year old nightmare.
— Matt Le Tissier (@mattletiss7) April 10, 2017
Photo by Ben Sutherland