Al-Saadi Gaddafi’s Football Adventure
In 2003, highly rated English youngster shocked the world by signing for Serie A Perugia. The signing, however, was overshadowed by Al-Saadi Gaddafi, football fanatic and the son of the Libyan Dictator Colonel Gaddafi.
The son of the dictator was a football star (or was he?) in his home country of Libya, but no-one could have predicted such a high profile move. But there was more to his successful career than met the eye. Read on to read about the son of Gaddafi football career and how it progressed.
Al-Saadi Gaddafi’s Football Dream
Al-Saadi always had a keen interest in football, being a fan of the sport from a young age. However, it took him until the age of 27 to try his hand at professional football.
He began his career in the capital city of his father’s country, Libya. He signed for clubs in Tripoli, making 98 appearances in his three-year spell in Libya, being made captain after signing, as well as being made captain of the Libyan National Team.
If you thought being made captain whilst have little to no football ability, or as one newspaper article claimed “even at twice his current speed, he would still be twice as slow as slow itself“, was as bad as it gets, you’d be wrong.
The Farce of Gaddafi
When Al-Saadi played, no other players could be referred to by name. Only Al-Saadi himself could be called by name, with the other players referred to as their shirt numbers.
“Number 2 passes to Al-Saadi Gaddafi, who lays it off for number 4”. It was an excerise in extreme vanity, done to build him up at the star of the league. He was the only name in Libyan football, literally.
Teammates even purported that they received bonuses of £250 for simply passing the ball to him.
““He was the son of the leader so you couldn’t play with him as if he was anyone else,” Musbah Shengab, one of his former teammates in Tripoli claimed. “He wasn’t what you’d call a team player.”
His team was refereed favourably, which made sense as he was also head of the Libyan Football Association. His team were award penalties consistently, and legitimate goals against chalked off by corrupt officials, allegedly paid for by Al-Saadi. Goalkeepers even let him score regularly, for fears of enraging to third son of the country’s dictator.
Friendly in Barcelona
April 2003, and Colonel Gaddafi was at the height of his power, with Libya a financially powerful country with good relations with the west (which I’m remained correct for a long while…). Money was no object. Europe was happy to welcome the Libyan’s into their homes, even after all the bad press they got from Back to the Future.
One day Barcelona were training at their La Masia training facility. It was a regular day like any other, before an impromptu visit from Al-Saadi Gaddafi halted proceedings. The meeting was cordial, joyful even, with the Gaddafi’s were popular in Spain. His father, Muammar Gaddafi, was given the Gold Key to the City of Madrid in 2007.
The match took place 2 days after the meeting. Gaddafi stumping up £300,000 to play a match at the Nou Camp. It was little more than a warm up game for Barcelona, who trounced Al-Saadi’s club 5-0. He came on after 12 minutes, but could not stop Barcelona putting El-Ittihad to the sword.
It was a drubbing, but it gave Al-Saadi his dream of playing in Europe. Unfortunately for fans of Italian Football, his appetite was insatiable.
The Italian Dream
Soon after his foray into European football, Al-Saadi decided he wanted more. But at the age of 30, his chances of being picked up by one of Europe’s royalty of football clubs was slim to none.
So Gaddafi, with his fathers backing, decided he was going to purchase them instead. In 2003, he bought a 7.5% stake in Juventus, the biggest club in Italy. The Old Lady, as Juventus are nicknamed, were not keen on signing the Libyan forward however.
Due to this rejection, he moved forward onto finding another Italian club to have him. First he tried buying shares in Lazio and Roma, Neither of these endeavours proved fruitful, but it did attracted the attention of Perugia.
Luciano Gaucci, the eccentric president who Al-Saadi caught the eye of, was the man who signed off on the deal to sign the Libyan captain. However, it wasn’t just the owner who wanted to sign the son of Colonel Gaddafi.
It was Milan president, and then-Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi. The controversial figure ordered Perugia to sign the son of the Libyan leader. He wanted to use the signing as a show of building links with Libya. He thought the signing would be good for the country, given the history between Italy and Libya, telling Gaucci, “having[Saadi] in the team is helping us build a relationship with Libya. If he plays badly…so be it.”
Al-Saadi in Perugia
Al-Saadi Gaddafi’s football career started interestingly. He turned up with an all star entourage, employing disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson as his fitness coach, and Napoli legend Diego Maradona as his “Technical Consultant”. This turned out as you’d expect, and Al-Saadi was suspended due to the banned substance Nandrolone in his system, a form of anabolic steroid.
This suspension came after making his one and only Serie A appearance for Perugia. It came against the team that he held 7.5% of shares of, Juventus. It became clear before his debut he had to resign as a Juventus shareholder due to player registration rules. so it was ironic his only appearance came against that very team.
He came on as a substitute with 15 minutes left in the game, with Perugia 1-0 up and on the verge of avoiding relegation from Serie A. Juventus had just had a man sent off, and newspaper Gazetta Della Sport joked that the substitution “effectively restored numerical parity.”
Al-Saadi did not have much impact on the game. Outside of a few inconsequential touches and a harsh challenge on him by Balon D’or winner Pavel Nedved, his impact was minimal.
While Italian football fans weren’t endeared by the son of Colonel Gadafi, one man that was was another new signing for Perugia.
Jay Bothroyd, the highly rated Arsenal younger signed from Coventry was new to Perugia, and instantly latched on to Al-Saadi Gaddafi when he moved to Italy.
“Initially I found it really difficult to cope. I didn’t speak Italian, and I remember my first month’s phone bill was €7,000 [£6,119) because I was calling home the entire time.” Bothroyd said, about his start in Italy. However, he soon became friends with Gaddafi, as the pair were the only English speakers in the squad.
“He’s a nice guy, I was quite friendly with him because he can speak English and we still speak now.”
Al-Saadi has since been extradited back to Libya on murder charges, during the countries civil war. His father was killed during a coup in 2011, and Al-Saadi was reportedly tortured while in prison in 2014. He was cleared of the murder of footballer Bashir al-Riani in 2015.
However, Bothroyd never saw this side of the Libyan.
I just didn’t see that in him,” he says. “I didn’t see any violence, didn’t see him disrespect his staff or speak down to anyone. He was softly spoken, generous – maybe too generous.” Bothroyd claimed
“One time during an international break he took the whole team on private jets to Monte Carlo, rented the top two floors of the Hermitage Hotel [where rooms can cost more than £500] and paid for every single player to have their own room.”
The End for Al-Saadi
Gaddafi moved to Udinese and then Sampadoria in Serie A, making one appearance and once again failing to impress. His friendship with Bothroyd remains but his football career to an end.
His father was killed in 2011 and his power over the Libyan people vanquished. This put a full stop on Al-Saadi’s life as a billionaire playboy, and his arrest for murder seemed like the end of the road for Al-Saadi Gaddafi.
His story will always remain as an enigma. How could someone with no football ability get to play in one of the biggest leagues , against one of the biggest football teams?
The answer? Billions and Billions of dollars.