The Day Ali Dia Wasn't Even Good Enough For Pompey
Sunday, 22nd Jul 2018 11:46
The name Ali Dia is forever linked with Southampton Football Club and often crops up as an example of not only Saints worst player, but as an embarrassing gaffe by then Saints manager Graeme Souness, but it could have been Pompey he played for.
The Ali Dia story is a strange one, back in the 1990, pre the internet days, it wasn't as difficult to get a trial for a professional football club as you would have thought, although club's had extensive scouting networks, they couldn't cover players careers as they can now with modern technology, so triallists were not uncommon at clubs.
Saints took on Ali Dia for a trial supposedly because the World renowned player George Weah had recommended him and they had no real way of checking out Dia's career up to that date, nor his age as it turned out he was actually 31 when he arrived at the Dell.
Saints had an injury and illness crisis when he arrived and as it worsened, they were forced to sign him on to a month's contract and put him on the bench when Leeds United visited in November 1996.
Up to this point you excuse Graeme Souness for doing what he had to do to make up the numbers, but what was extraordinary was that when Matt Le Tissier had to go off injured in the 32nd minute, that Dia was put on ahead of far more tried and tested players also on the bench that day.
In truth Dia almost scored with his first touch seconds after coming on, he latched on to a throw in and it took smart work by the Leeds keeper to block his shot.
If he was as bad as some try to make out then why was he not substituted long before he eventually was in the 85th minute, yes he wasn't great, but I have seen far worse games by players in a Saints shirt both before and after Dia's 53 minutes of fame.
Most who were at the game just thought he wasn't up to scratch or was overawed rather than he was an impostor.
But it could have been different, it could have been Pompey whose faces were red, what has rarely been revealed is that Dia had tried to convince Portsmouth to sign him a few months earlier.
Journalist Neil Allen of the Portsmouth News has told the story of how Dia rocked up at Fratton Park in the summer of 1996.
His article recalls the time 22 years ago.
Pompey reserves’ encounter with Midhurst & Easebourne in a pre-season fixture staged in Chichester is a game that few Pompey fans will recall but Dia is remembered by some of those on Pompey's staff at the time.
‘It was awful opposition and he was as bad, if not worse, than the opposition,’ recalled former Blues physio Neil Sillett. ‘I turned around and said “What have we got here?”
With Pompey manager Terry Fenwick desperately trying to strengthen his squad with no money available there were a number of triallists at the club that summer and Dia was one of them.
Sillett added: ‘Obviously, Fen arranged it and got him there. ‘I remember him coming with no gear and tried to get new boots off us!"
‘When he left not long after, Gordon Neave, the kitman, was very insistent in getting the playing gear back because we had a feeling he was a rogue triallist. ‘He was only with us for two or three days, he did a couple of days training and played in that game at Chichester.
‘We all trained together in those days, we didn’t possess the staff to have split groups, so Dia would have worked alongside the first team. ‘I can’t remember too much about the reserve match he played in. It was a windy, wet night and I drove the minibus there, but I can’t recall the scoreline. I remember him.
‘With triallists, you are looking for what you need position-wise, then there’s analysing the performance in terms of someone’s body language – and very quickly it became apparent he was more at home at the opponents’ level than he was ours. ‘Then he tried his luck down the road – and it went a lot better for him!’
So on July 30, 1996, Pompey#s reserves– plus Dia faced the non-leaguers. The existence of the fixture was never recorded in The News, although the following month’s Pompey programme carried a summary of the reserves’ pre-season. It revealed the Blues won 3-1 through a Jamie Howell double and Clinton More, but did not detail the line-up.
Of course, there was no mention of the late addition to the published side – Dia.
Although, in December 1996, Sillett lifted the lid in his Sports Mail column, under the headline ‘Dia’s case folded at his Chichester trial’. Following the Southampton debacle, he was compelled to reveal the Senegal-born player’s Pompey past.
Sillett, who nowadays works as global senior scout for Aston Villa, said: ‘Modern technology and analytical websites reduce that ambiguity about someone coming in.
‘Teams don’t really take triallists like they used to without seeing them or knowing much about them. ‘I would be amazed if anything like that got through again. ‘I just wonder where Ali Dia is now?’
So it could so easily have been Portsmouth who spared our blushes and in doing so written their own piece of infamy in the football annals, but if they could so easily have seen that Dia was nowehere near even county league level s did several other clubs at both lower and non league level how did Dia end up playing in the Premier League ?
Souness must have seen Dia in training, he must have known that he was nowhere near Premier League standard, he had better players on the bench than Dia and had no need to put him on.
These are the real questions behind the Ali Dia story, there just doesn't seem to be a logical answer to them, only Graeme Souness knows the real answer.
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