Sunday, 18 September 2011

Ali Dia (and other cousins of George Weah)

There's no real hiding place in sport.
You can handle the press conference like Ali in his prime but if you step out to perform with nothing to back it up you'll be lucky if it's just your ego that gets bruised.
That didn't deter Ali Dia though...
Graeme Souness has never had a great reputation as a manager for picking out and developing obscure but talented players.
His time at Glasgow Rangers is best defined by him bringing talent up to Scotland that allowed him to be successful in a relatively weak league but was never going to be a world class team,
at Liverpool he managed to dismantle a decent side and replace nearly all of the members of the team with inferior replacements while his success at Galatasary returned him to the comfort zone of helming a historically strong team in a generally poor league.
His judgement generally could be called into question after selling the story of his recovery from a heart attack to The Sun, a newspaper reviled in Liverpool after it's scandalous reporting of the Hillsborough disaster and his decision to plant a flag in the centre circle of the home pitch of their arch rivals Fenerbahce after a Turkish Cup win in 1996.
However all of this is overshadowed by the Ali Dia affair.
After receiving a phone call from Liberian international and former World Footballer of the Year recommending his cousin, who was at the time plying his trade at Blyth Spartans in the Northern Premier League, Souness agreed to give Ali Dia a one month contract.
He was impressed by Weah's enthusiasm and tales of Dia's 13 international appearances and time playing at Paris Saint-Germain.
Dia duly arrived and began training where he looked, frankly, quite ordinary.
He was due to make his Southampton debut against Arsenal in a reserve game but this was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
In the meantime Southampton were dogged by a series of injuries to members of the first team squad which saw a number of reserve players drafted in for a Premier League match against Leeds United.
Souness hoped not to have to call on his unproven bench but after 32 minutes Matthew Le Tissier pulled up injured and Ali Dia was sent into the fray.
It's possible that on another day, in another game Dia could have come on, kept his head down and cruised through the game unnoticed.
Instead he was replacing one of the most naturally gifted midfielders to ever grace the English game.
The contrast couldn't have been more obvious...

Le Tissier said afterwards:

'He ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice. It was very embarrassing to watch...'

After 53 minutes Souness had seen enough. Ken Monkou was sent on to replace Dia and the young Liberian never played for Southampton again.
Further enquiries revealed that he was not George Weah's cousin and that the phone call had come from his agent rather than the Liberian legend.
The stories of Dia's shining career were just that.
His career in France had been based at teams such as Beauvais and La Rochelle rather than PSG and he had never come close to international football.
Souness resigned at the end of the season and, incredibly, went on to find further employment.
Dia later signed for Gateshead, played 8 times for the club and scored on his debut.
He never played for Liberia.
The next season Arsenal signed Christopher Wreh from Monaco.
He was a Liberian international and a cousin of George Weah.
While never good enough to displace Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright at Arsenal Wreh played for the Gunners 28 times, scoring 3 goals.
You'd imagine that Arsene Wenger made a couple of phone calls before drawing up the contract...

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