Football Fakes and FraudsPosted: June 27, 2011
In this article we take a look at the fakes and frauds in football in the last 15 years or so. This list includes players who’ve been signed by or linked with clubs who were actually con men or didn’t even exist! So yeah, I suppose this also pokes fun at certain managers and tabloids gullibility as well.
We start with Ali Dia, a BOIP icon and one time Southampton player.
Ali is definitely the most (in)famous ‘Fake Footballer’ there ever was, and deservedly so. The plan that landed him at Southampton was as simple as it was stunning. George Weah (Yes, former World Player of the Year George Weah) phoned up manager at the time Graeme Souness and recommended his 30-year-old cousin who had been capped 13 times for Senegal, played for top French side Paris St. Germain and his most recent club was an unnamed German 2nd Division side.
In actual fact, not one bit of that was true. The man who phoned him was not George Weah, it was Dia’s agent doing his best impression of the former Liberian International. Dia never represented Senegal at any level whatsoever nor did he ever play for PSG, or any top side for that matter. The biggest club he played for prior to Southampton was actually Conference side Blyth Spartans.
Despite all this, he took his word for it without doing a bit of research or scouting. Dia arrived at the training ground shortly after, presumably dumbfounded that Souness fell for it, so went along with the story and told him the exact same things ‘George Weah’ told him. He even added another part to the story, claiming he scored 2 goals for Senegal days earlier.With that CV and ‘George Weah’ recommending him, its no wonder Souness signed him up.
Dia was due to play a reserve game the week he joined, but due to weather conditions the game was postponed. So rather than waiting around, Souness put him straight into the match day squad for the match against Leeds United. Matt Le Tissier was forced off the pitch early in the first half, cue the introduction of their new signing. Dia made his entrance, and from that moment on it would prove to be a day no Saints’ fan will ever forget. It took 43 minutes for poor ol’ ‘Souy’ to realise he had been taken for a fool. Dia did manage a shot on target, but aside from that, his performance was shockingly bad, with Le Tissier himself comparing Dia to ‘Bambi on Ice’.
News soon reached George Weah, who quickly denied contacting Souness and said he never even heard of Ali Dia, however, Ali still stuck to the story as he revealed what he was told by his manager: “He told me George rang him, and I said I’m a good player, I’m gonna prove I’m a good player”. Then when asked if George Weah really did ring the manager, he simply responded with: “Personally, as I told you, I don’t know.”
Peter Harrison, who managed Dia while he was with Blyth Spartans, even spoke of his shock when he seen his former striker playing against Leeds: “Next thing I knew I was watching him on Match of the Day, playing for Southampton, which was pretty unbelievable at the time.”
He played for 43 minutes, and although he was brutal in that time, he was also living the dream of every football fan for those 43 minutes, so perhaps we should even feel a little envious of him.
We here at BOIP refuse to believe he was a bad player, we put it down to a combination of lack of match fitness and a terrible manager. Dia is, and always will be, an icon and inspiration to us.
We all know the Papers come out with ridiculous and made up transfer rumours, but in 1999 a number of National newspapers in England really took the biscuit with this one.
In November,1999 The News of the World reported that U-21 French International Didier Baptiste was set to leave AS Monaco for a move to Liverpool worth £3.5 million. Other papers soon caught wind of this story and began reporting it. Even a service called Liverpool ClubCall were giving updates to fans for 60p/min. Now it all sounds good and well and was perhaps a bit unsurprising given Gerard Houllier’s preference to French players, but there was one small problem – he didn’t actually exist.
Well, not in the real world anyways, Didier Baptiste was actually a character on SKY1 soap drama ‘Dream Team’. It even turned out the storyline for Didier’s introduction would be a £3.5 million move to fictional side Harchester United from AS Monaco, after turning down a move to Arsenal. The story stemmed from an episode where he is discussing his potential transfer with the AS Monaco PRO. He says he is aware of interest “from a big club managed by a Frenchman”. When asked if it was Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool or Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, he simply responds with a smile.
It is believed this rumour started on an Arsenal Fan Forum, jokingly speculating that the Gunners were in the running to sign the defender. Sports websites soon picked up on this. Hayters, a news agency who pass stories onto national papers gave this one to the NOTW, and ended up taking some of the blame which also saw an investigation into how something like this could’ve happened.
Mike Dunn, editor of the NOTW, even somehow managed to see Baptiste in action when he even commented on him: “We think Didier Baptiste would be an ideal addition to Liverpool’s back four. He’s a really attractive player, and you will be seeing a lot more of him in The News of the World.”
Apparently, Houllier sounded impressed with the player’s CV and was considering looking into enquiring about him until he found out he was actually a work of fiction. Although it’s never been proven that he showed interest in the player, we wouldn’t be surprised if it was true given that he seemed to rate every French player on the planet while he was at Anfield.
The Nigerian conmen
If Nigeria is known for one thing, its scams, and our next piece takes a look at the conmen in the country who promise young Nigerian teenagers their chance of playing in the Premiership. Although this is the shortest section of this article, it is definitely the saddest and most serious.
There are many cases of this that have happened down through the years, but I’ve decided to take the story of Isaiah Akpan, just one of many young hopefuls who thought his dream would be realized.
Isaiah is like the majority of African teenagers, football mad. He is also one of the many who put his details on sports networking websites. He always finds it tough to talk about the gamble he took in hope of achieving his dream of playing in the English Premiership. The dream rapidly descended into a nightmare, when he fell victim to conmen who left him penniless, stranded and alone in a foreign country.
“They promised a club but did not mention the specific name of the club. They said that I would have to go for a trial in Singapore in Asia. Then after two or three months they would transfer me to UK.”, he recalls.
Before any of that, Isaiah was informed he would have to pay a $500 registration fee. After he handed over his money, he never saw or heard from the men again. He was left stranded and alone in a foreign country, with no money to go home.
To round it all up, he never achieved the dream he was promised by two men who instead made him a victim of their scam. Nigeria is famous for its scams, most notably the ‘Nigerian Letter 419’ fraud, and it’s sad to see that not only is it still going on to this very day, but they are taking advantage of the hopes and dreams of young boys and girls for their own personal gain.
There’s always a new footballing prodigy breaking onto the scene in football, and in 2009, the name Masal Bugduv was hitting some of the biggest newspapers and football websites. The 16-year-old Moldovan Striker was so good he even made The Times ‘Top 50 Rising Star’ list and had articles on him on websites such as goal.com and When Saturday Comes. The Times gave this small piece about him: “Moldova’s finest, the 16-year-old attacker has been strongly linked with a move to Arsenal, work permit permitting. And he’s been linked with plenty of other top clubs as well.” Masal turned out to be a massive disappointment. Not because he didn’t live up to his potential, but because, like others on this list, he never existed.
The creation of Masal Bugduv is actually quite interesting. An unnamed Irishman had become fed up with the constant rumours and fake information given about players by newspapers, so came up with the plan to create his own player with the help of wikipedia article, blog posts and falsified reports, all to show the unreliability of media outlets.
With his friend’s help, they posted threads about Bugduv on different football forums and the papers and websites eventually took the bait. After doing some research, they had realized the embarrassing false articles they published and immediately issued apologies to their readers.
This story intrigued me, and I did my own research on the story. The name Masal Bugduv is a very similar pronunciation of ‘M’asal Beag Dubh‘ which loosely translates from Gaeilge as My Little Black Donkey. It’s not as if its a random Irish phrase the creator of this hoax used, ‘M’asal Beag Dubh’ is actually an old Irish story about a dishonest salesman who seeks an exaggerated price for his rather lazy donkey. So, based on the first part in particular, you’d have to agree this was this inspiration behind the hoax. He even created a fake Moldovan newspaper called ‘Diario Mo Thon‘. If you all know one piece of Irish, it will be ‘Póg Mo Thon’, so I’ll let you decipher what the newspaper title translates into.
I can’t help but praise the man who came up with the plan. It was well thought out and he achieved what he set out to do, and I think at one stage or another we all want to con these newspaper editors who fill the papers with transfer rumours they hardly even research (like this gem about Norwegian striker John Carew moving to Athletic Bilbao, a club with a rather strict and very widely known ‘Basque only’ policy). I’d just like to point out that this isn’t a dig at all sports journalists, we here at BOIP are of course perfectly reliable and safe.
Alessandro first came to light when he joined Welsh side Bangor City on a ‘Loan Deal’. He met the fans and was happy to have his photo taken and give interviews. He was like a marquee signing and there was great hope he’d add a little bit of Italian panache that would see Bangor surge up the table. After all the hype, ‘Sandro “pulled a runner” after just a month with the club, with money in his pocket and was provided with accomodation for free.
It turned out he had actually pulled the same stunt months earlier with Lisburn Distillery in Northern Ireland, but was let go after an underwhelming performance in a friendly against Finn Harps. After Bangor City, he made the short trip to Connah’s Quay, but this club thought there was something fishy about this Zarelli character. When he discovered the manager was talking to Bangor manager Peter Davenport, he quickly left the club. It’s believed he even pulled it off back in Italy as well.
To uncover the truth about the Italian aristocrat, a TV crew set up a ‘sting operation’ of sorts when he was called for a meeting with a scout, but little to his knowledge, the man was actually just posing as an scout. Zarelli was remarkably calm and collected as you like as he lied through his teeth about playing with Sheffield Wednesday, Rangers and MK Dons. When cameras came through the door, he stuck with his story and still remained very calm without as much as a drop of sweat, a stunning performance from the Italian, it must be said.
What they discovered about Allesandro was that Matteo Colobase, was actually Zarelli himself and that Colobase didn’t exist, as well as an Italian FA official who didn’t exist either. They contacted the three British clubs and two Italian clubs he claims to have played with, all of whom never heard of him. He also claimed his brother played for AC Torino, but the club have no record of him playing for them. Faxes made by Zarelli were also traced back to a shop located around the corner from his parents house. He also gave some phone numbers in which clubs could contact him and his agent at. The other phone number was actually the number for the phone in his mothers house.
Allesandro was finally caught, and was given a number if he wished to contact the TV crew. The next day, sure enough, he rang them, and left this message: “Thank you for the big story, you have made me famous, you’ve helped people know about me…..and you are big son of a bitch!”
As a League of Ireland fan, the one thing that annoyed me most was the fact he went to clubs who could ill-afford to pay his wages, especially a man who hardly even plays a game for you. I see clubs struggle as it is here, and they could do without an Allesandro Zarelli type character.
He more than likely wanted to emulate the achievement of Ali Dia, but was forced to do it on a much smaller scale. It is an intriguing story, and surprisingly he was rumoured to have been training with Halifax Town in 2009! To be honest Allesandro was hardly what you’d call a footballer, if there was a ‘Balls Out in Public’ 7-a-side team and he was in it, he’d probably still struggle. He’s such a mysterious character, Alessandro Zarelli may not even be his real name!
So I suppose the moral of the story is that if something is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
Well as always I hope you enjoyed reading, perhaps the stories here may be a bit of an eye opener or a warning to any managers who may be reading this! My advice on this is simple, do your research before signing a player. Of course this is common knowledge, but I don’t think that phrase applies to Graeme Souness, unless of course you want to end up looking like this every time you realise your new ‘Star player’ is actually just one big heap of crap :