The realm of sports often transforms into a domain of diverse interests, which aren’t always healthy, meaningful, positive, or ethical. Football, of course, is no exception, and Southampton serves as a prime example of this, as it becomes the central figure in one of the most surreal incidents to occur in recent decades.
The year is 1996, in the city associated with the renowned British liner famously known as the “Titanic.” This peculiar event unfolds in Southampton, located in the southern part of England, at the now-defunct “The Dell” stadium, which previously served as the home ground for the “Saints” before their relocation to the current “St. Mary’s” stadium in 2001.
This is the account of one of the most peculiar and bizarre transfers in English football history. In fact, this transaction is regarded as one of the worst ever witnessed on British soil, with some labeling it as a fraudulent act.
In 1996, a phone call reaches the Southampton office, but it diverges from ordinary calls for various reasons. Firstly, due to the identity of the caller, and secondly, because of the subsequent ramifications it entails. Initially, the call leaves everyone at the English club’s office astounded. The caller introduces themselves as George Weah, the legendary Liberian striker who attained great acclaim during his time at Milan. The purpose of this call is to advise Southampton to acquire a player named Ali Dia.
During that time, Southampton finds itself in a precarious state, a situation that grows increasingly concerning. This conversation occurs during a moment of desperation and presents a solution that, unfortunately, yields negative consequences. The individual posing as Weah recommends the recruitment of Dia, who is purportedly his nephew and was last associated with Paris Saint-Germain but presently without a team. This personal call from “Weah” persuades Southampton, amidst their desperate circumstances, to hastily make a decision and sign the striker. Ali Dia consequently becomes a player for Southampton.
However, this call is nothing more than a ruse, encompassing various deceptive elements. The call does not originate from George Weah, and Ali Dia has never played for PSG (in reality, his career took him through amateur clubs in France, Finland, and England, except for Southampton). Furthermore, the striker is not as skilled as he initially appears. In an era where scouting systems lacked precision, and platforms like YouTube had yet to be launched, this phone conversation served as the sole reference point and source of information for the English club.
The transfer is already complete. Ali Dia signs with Southampton and even manages to make an official debut in the Premier League. However, how is it possible to make a debut without even witnessing him touch the ball? After signing the contract, manager Graeme Souness arranges a trial match between Southampton’s reserve teams and Arsenal to evaluate the player’s abilities. Unfortunately, adverse weather conditions lead to the match being abandoned. Consequently, Souness is compelled to include the new signing in the squad for the game against Leeds.
Dia’s debut takes place on November 23, 1996. Southampton’s legend, Matt Le Tissier, suffers an injury, prompting Souness to take the risk of fielding Ali Dia. This decision reveals the deception but unfolds in front of thousands of spectators in real-time. Dia enters the game in the 34th minute, but his performance proves to be lackluster, resulting in his substitution in the 77th minute. He appears as a player who runs aimlessly, lacks tactical awareness, and possesses no ball skills.
Upon realization of what has transpired, Southampton experiences a sense of shock. Particularly when they contact George Weah the following day, seeking an explanation for the incident. Weah, an African football icon, is held in high regard, making it difficult to comprehend why he would be involved in such a scheme. Southampton finds themselves astounded by the whole affair.