Ali Dia is fondly remembered by football fans up and down the country, despite playing a grand total of 53 minutes for the Southampton FC. But what happened to the worst player ever to play in the premier league? Well, that’s just the thing – no one really seems to know.
Graeme Souness has done some pretty irresponsible things during his management career– sticking a Galatasaray flag in the centre circle of Fenerbace’s Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium being one – but the signing of Ali Dia has to be up there with the worst of them.
Souness was in charge of the Saints for just one season in 1996/1997, and a 16th place finish meant his time in charge was pretty unremarkable… bar the signing of Dia.
Much has been made of Dia’s diabolical appearance for the club, but the real hero of the story is his agent – which could have been Dia putting on a different voice for all we know. After trying his luck with West Ham’s Harry Redknapp and getting nowhere, the agent somehow managed to kid Souness into thinking he was George Weah, World Footballer of the Year at the time, and recommend his cousin Ali who he claimed was ‘just as good as him’. Dia had allegedly played internationally for Senegal, as well as domestically for Bologne and PSG, and Souness duly invited him along for a trail, without doing any research whatsoever.
Watch Ali Dia in action below:
Of course, Dia’s real credentials looked a little different to the ones his agent claimed. Instead of PSG, he’d signed for French fifth division side AL Chateaubriant in the late 80s, made a handful of appearances for Saint-Quentin FC in 1991, before moving on to FinnPa (a club who spent most of their history in the Finnish third division), and then their Finnish rivals PK-35 Vantaa. Then, in 1996, he earned two caps for German second division side VfB Lübeck, before earning a dream move to Blyth Spartans.
“He ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice; it was very embarrassing to watch.”
This could only have ever happened before the internet of course: it’s almost sad to think that a great story such as Dia’s could never happen now – a quick Google search would have revealed his playing past, and Dia’s legendary cameo in the Premier League would never have happened.
In any case, he was invited to train with the club, and Saints legend Matt Le Tissier remarked in his autobiography Taking Le Tiss that he ‘looked like a competition winner’ during his time with the team. Unbelievably, he was awarded a one-month contract, and put straight into the second team for a game against Arsenal reserves.
However, the game was called off due to a boggy pitch, and as the first team had suffered a spate of injuries leading up to their away game against Leeds on November 23 1996, Souness named him amongst the substitutes.
Listen to Matt Le Tissier tell his side of the Ali Dia story below:
32 minutes in, Dia came on for the injured Le Tissier wearing the number 33 jersey, and put in what’s famously been called the worst performance the Premier League has ever seen. So bad in fact, that we was himself taken off shortly afterwards. Le Tissier later said: “He ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice; it was very embarrassing to watch.” Saints, perhaps unsurprisingly, lost 2-0.
Souness stormed off down the tunnel after the final whistle, knowing he’d been duped, and Dia was subsequently released from his month-long contract after just two weeks.
So, what happened next for Dia? Well, in truth, he’s totally disappeared off the footballing map. Precious little is known of his exploits over the past 15 years, but he had a suitably enigmatic career in England in the years immediately after his Saints appearance. He was spotted playing for Gateshead just a few months afterwards, and he actually managed to bag two goals in his eight appearances for the club. Bizarrely, he then put his glittering football career on hold to take a business course at Northumbria University in Newcastle, and graduated in 2001.
After that, the rest is a mystery, and perhaps that’s the best way for him to be remembered. George Weah’s cousin: the enigma who pulled off the biggest con in Premier League history.