The Worst Hires of All Time – Ali Dia

As explained in our latest infographic blogpost, ‘unless you know a person is who they say they are, any other information you receive about them, cannot be relied upon’ – if you want anyone to confirm the value of such advice, look no further than ex-Southampton manager Graeme Souness.

Now legendary in football folklore is the story of Ali Dia, the conference league player who, with a few CV embellishments and a rather dubious reference, found his way onto the main stage of English football.

Dia has previously been playing in the lower divisions of English football – a full seven leagues below the Premier League – for Blyth Spartans, when suddenly he appeared on the radar of Graeme Souness, the then Southampton manager.

Souness was contacted by Liberian legend George Weah (former World Player of the Year), who gave Dia a glowing endorsement, explaining how he was his 30 year old Senegalese cousin, with whom he had played alongside while at Paris St. Germain. Dia had also supposedly been capped 13 times for Senegal and had most recently been playing in Germany for a 2nd division side.

In a remarkable tale of negligence by Souness, no background or employment checks were carried out by Southampton on the player, and upon such strong recommendations, Dia was promptly given a trial at the club and signed a rolling monthly contract.

Although Souness missed out on an early opportunity to see Dia in action for the reserve team due to poor weather conditions, and despite failing to impress his team-mates during a subsequent first-team training session; Dia was included in Southampton’s squad to play Leeds United just days after signing.

In an article for the Guardian, former Southampton captain, Matt Le Tissier recalls Dia turning up for training and the shock of his inclusion within the match day squad:

‘I only really trained with him once, on the Friday before the fateful day. He joined in the five-a-side on the Friday morning, and was introduced to us as a triallist. I remember at the time thinking: “He’s not very good. He’s probably not going to make it”.

Then when we turned up for the game against Leeds the following day, I was amazed to hear that he’d been named on the subs’ bench. I think the picture of the faces of the boys must have been remarkable. Our jaws all dropped to the floor.’

As fate would have it, Le Tissier inadvertently handed Dia his Premier League debut after pulling his thigh muscle early on in the game and being forced off. Souness promptly turned to his new star and Dia entered into the spotlight of Premier League football.

The fact that Dia was so bad he only played for 52 minutes before being substituted, being described by Le Tissier as ‘Bambi on ice’, is quite beside the point. With a little help from his agent, putting on his best Liberian accent down the phone to Souness, and a dreamt up CV (including two international goals for Senegal just days before signing to Southampton), Dia had made it onto one the biggest stages in world football.

Being described by Le Tissier as ‘Bambi on ice’

Of course, everything was not quite as rosy for the deeply embarrassed Southampton manager, who upon seeing the player in action, swiftly realised the error of his judgement. Although Dia did return the following day to spend a few hours on the treatment table with the club physio, he then promptly vanished from the footballing spotlight, virtually never to be heard of again.

Upon further research, it was of course discovered that not one bit of Dia’s impressive resume was true; he had never represented Senegal, never played for PSG or any top league club and certainly was not related to the great George Weah; who quickly denied contacting Souness when word of the story began to break.

The pitfalls of failing to background check potential employees are there for everyone to see. While the story and cheek of Ali Dia may have become legendary among football fans – many of whom no doubt hope to share in the childhood dream of playing just a half of top level football – the error of such poorly informed decisions always ends up reflecting badly upon those in higher levels of management. The blushes of Souness could have been spared through a simple identity and employment check. Don’t let your own company fall foul of such deception, it could cost you diiiaaaaaly!

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Ed is Head of Operations at Onfido - that is to say he co-ordinates all the magic that happens here behind the scenes! In his spare time he's a semi-professional DJ and event organiser!