Matt Le Tissier: I thought Ali Dia had won a competition to train with Southampton

We still don’t know how Dia got in a Premier League squad.

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After spending almost his entire professional career at Southampton, Matt Le Tissier pretty much saw it all when it came to the south coast club. Le Tissier career with the Saints spanned three decades and 16 years, as he somehow resisted temptation to leave despite his obvious ability to play at an even higher level.

During his time at Southampton, he become a key part of one of the most bizarre incidents in the history of Premier League football back in November 1996, and that was the appearance of Ali Dia in a Premier League game. Dia, who had played one game for Blyth Spartans earlier that month before being released, managed to get a month’s contract out of the Saints after then manager Graeme Souness received a call claimed that he was a cousin of George Weah and had been capped 13 times for his country – none of which was true.

It was enough to get him in the door at Southampton though, and he somehow found himself on the bench for a Premier League game against Leeds United on 23 November 1996, mainly thanks to an injury crisis at the club. When Le Tissier got injured in the 32nd minute, Dia was called from the bench and went on to give one of the worst displays in the history of top tier English football. He was eventually substituted himself in the 85th minute and quickly released by Southampton.

The situation will be forever etched into the annals of football history and thankfully, Matt was kind enough to give us his version of events on our From The Horse’s Mouth podcast this week. Le Tissier told hosts Paddy Power and Ruby Walsh he thought Dia had won a prize to train with the club and recounted just how terrible the trickster was a football.

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“It was a bizarre situation. The kid comes in training, claiming to be George Weah’s cousin. To this day, we don’t actually know who made that phone call into the football club,” said the Southampton legend.

“It could have been Ali Dia himself who made the call, it would be fantastic just to hear from him, to actually see if he would admit who made it. But, it was odd!

“It’s a very different world we were living in 25 years ago because we didn’t have a budget to go out and buy players, we would often get a lot of players in on trial. They would come in and train with us for a few days, and then you’d never see them again. But, there were some that come in, and you’d go, ‘oh, blimey, they’re decent and they would stay.

“For instance, we had two Norwegian centre-forwards come in and have a trial with us under Graeme Souness.  I think combined, they would have cost us £1.2m and we couldn’t afford both of them, so we had to pick one. The choice was between Egil Ostenstad and Tore Andre Flo. Obviously, we chose Ostenstad – who did a very good job for us – and Flo obviously went to Chelsea afterwards and went on to have a very good career from then.

“But, then you’d have other players who’d come in, train a couple of days, and you’d think they’re not going to be here very long. Ali Dia was one of those players. I thought he’d won a competition or something!”

Dia managed to survive the cut though, and Matt explained how he ended up in the squad for the Leeds game.

“On the Friday before we played Leeds at the Dell and he plays in this five-a-side, and he’s not very good.”

He’s useless, and I’m thinking what’s going on.

“After the five-a-side, I went and took a few penalties. Just as I took the last one, I felt a little strain in my thigh muscle. I was like, ‘oh, that didn’t feel very good’,” Le Tiss told Paddy and Ruby.

The following day at 1.30pm, we’re in the changing room and he’s there.

“I was like, ‘Jesus, that is a really good competition he’s won’. He’s not only training with us, he’s going to get to hear the team talk and everything. Graeme Souness names the team, then he names the three subs. Ali Dia was amongst the subs, and we’re all looking around. Now, I know we had a few injuries at the time, but surely it wasn’t that bad.”

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Le Tissier would be unable to run off the injury in the game and so set off a chain of events that will never be forgotten in football.

“I just went to cross a ball, and it was the same pain from the day before. I thought, ‘that doesn’t feel too good’. So, I put my hand up, I can’t carry on. Then, to my enormous delight, I see this geezer warming up.”

I’m like, ‘oh my god, I’m going to get substituted for Ali Dia’.

“That was it. I’m off and he’s on, and then he runs around like he’s on ice for a little while. He almost scores actually, he had an absolute sitter and completely missed his kick in front of the goal.

“Graeme Souness realised late on in the second half that actually he couldn’t play, and he subbed him off again. That was the last we saw of him. He never turned up for training on the Monday, and he disappeared. I’ve never heard from him again since!”

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