The Strange Case of Ali Dia

“The Dell, May 26th 2001” by Kiloran is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Graeme Souness spent one season as manager of Southampton, taking charge of The Saints in the 1996/97 season.  He came to Southampton having had previous successful spells at Rangers, Liverpool and Galatasaray of Turkey.

In his spell at Ibrox, Souness won four League titles and four League Cups before moving to his former club Liverpool to replace Kenny Dalglish.  Although he had struggled at Liverpool and his tenure is regarded as a disappointment by Liverpool fans, he had still won the FA Cup in the 1991/92 season for the club he captained in his playing career.

After being fired from his job at Anfield after losing to Bristol City in the FA Cup in January 1994, Souness spent a year out of work before moving to Turkey to take over as manager of Galatasaray.
He won both the Turkish Cup and Turkish Super Cup with the Istanbul club before returning to English football with Southampton.

Despite all of the success listed above and the further spells in management at Torino, Benfica, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United, there is only one thing that he will be remembered for as a manager. Graeme Souness was the manager who was duped into signing a player by the name of Ali Dia!

As the story goes, Souness took a call from a man claiming to be then World Player of the Year, George Weah.  The Southampton boss at the time was told by “George Weah” that his cousin Ali Dia had played for PSG and had thirteen caps for Senegal.  None of these claims were true, but Souness fell for the story, signing Dia on a one-month contract.

Dia made it onto the substitutes bench a few days later against Leeds United in a League game at The Dell.  His time to shine came in the 32nd minute as he was called on to replacing Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier who had to go off injured.  It was quickly noticeable that Dia wasn’t as good as he was claimed to be.  He ran about the pitch looking lost and was quite clearly not good enough to play in the top flight of English football.

In the 85th minute, the Southampton manager had had enough and substituted his substitute!  Dia was replaced by Ken Monkou and was never seen in a Southampton shirt again.

In the days that followed, the truth about Ali Dia slowly started to emerge.  He had played for Blyth Spartans just nine days prior to his appearance for Southampton, in a Northern Premier League game against Boston United.  Dia had failed trials at both Gillingham and Bournemouth and had played in the lower leagues of French and German football.

Dia was released by Southampton halfway through his one-month contract and disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.  He joined non-league Gateshead and scored on his debut, but left in February 1997 after playing eight games, scoring twice.

The story of Ali Dia remains one of the more quirkier stories in Premier League history and one that brings embarrassment to Southampton fans. However, the one person most embarrassed by the whole saga is Graeme Souness, the man who fell for the call, signed Dia and played him in a Premier League match!

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