This summer during the transfer window, So Foot returns every day of the week to a transfer that marked its time in its own way. For this 40th episode, focus on one of the most mysterious transfers in the history of Italian football. In 2003, Saadi Gaddafi, son of then Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, joined Perugia Calcio. A coup that is both political and marketing, but certainly not sporting.
If there was one thing Luciano Gaucci, the late president of Perugia Calcio, loved, it was being talked about. For good, for bad, whatever, the guy liked to be on the front of the stage and under the spotlight. A few examples, like this, on the fly: supporter of Roma, he became vice-president of the club giallorosso in the 80s, trying to buy out his heart club after the death of president Dino Viola. The transaction could not be finalized, Gaucci tried to buy … Lazio. Without success. In 1993, after taking over the Perugia club, he won the promotion to Serie B, but this was canceled because of two fixed matches: Gaucci allegedly slipped a few tickets into the pocket of a referee, Mr Senzacqua, which will be worth to the president three years of suspension. Seven years later, on the last day of the championship, his Perugia, now in Serie A, beat Carlo Ancelotti’s Juventus and thus offered the Scudetto to Lazio, his sworn enemy. And instead of ruminating at the end of the meeting, he declares all smiles to the journalists: “ If we hadn’t played hard, I would have sent everyone to an internship in China! » . And in 2002, Gaucci made himself famous again for having fired one of his own players, Ahn Jung-hwan, « guilty » of having eliminated Italy during the 2002 World Cup. So much for the CV of the character.
“During my mandate, he did not play a single minute. As a football player, he is worth absolutely nothing. » Franco Scoglio, former Libyan coach
Start of career at 27
Now knowing all that, is it really surprising that in the summer of 2003 Luciano Gaucci announced a new transfer window that was going to make the whole world jump? The name of his recruit: Saadi Gaddafi. Son of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi had nine children, from two different marriages, six sons and three daughters. The two eldest sons, Mohamed and Saif, were already engaged in politics. But Saadi wanted something else. He wanted to become a professional footballer. A choice not really validated by his dictator father, who despised all the spectacle surrounding sport. For him, sport should just be practiced, not watched. But no matter: Saadi wants to live his dream. And his career will prove to be as mysterious as it is fascinating.
Officially, he began his career in 2000, at the age of 27 (!) in the local club of Al-Ahly Tripoli. He stayed there for a year, then moved to Al-Ittihad Tripoli. Inevitably, being the son of the dictator of the country gives certain privileges. In fact, although he is not really a crack, Kadhafi Jr is captain of his team, and also plays in the national team. Nevertheless, in 2002, the new Libyan coach, the Italian Franco Scoglio, discovered the pot-aux-roses. And without fear of reprisals, he lets go of his truths: I realized that the goals he scored in the league were only gifts from the opposing defenses. So, I called him up to the national team just once, for form. But at half-time, he was upset to be on the bench so he left. During my tenure, he did not play a single minute. As a football player, he is worth absolutely nothing.Scoglio will obviously be fired a few months later.
A political recruit
It is well aware of all this that Luciano Gaucci nevertheless decides to recruit him in the summer of 2003. But beware: the path that led Saadi Gaddafi to Perugia is tortuous and dotted with gray areas, even today. To understand the ins and outs, you have to rewind to December 21, 1988, the date of the Lockerbie bombing. That day, a plane making the connection between London and New York exploded above the town of Lockerbie, in Scotland, causing the death of 270 people. After a three-year investigation by local police and the FBI, arrest warrants were issued for two Libyan nationals. One of the two alleged perpetrators, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, is a Libyan intelligence officer, and therefore works for Muammar Gaddafi. It was Gaddafi himself who delivered him to justice in 1999. Al-Megrahi was sentenced to life in 2001 and two years later, in 2003, Gaddafi accepted responsibility for the attack and paid compensation to the families of the 270 victims.
« This story with Gaddafi got publicity, and it could only be good publicity. It was in the papers every day, on TV every day. It was, for my father, what made him made me happy. »Riccardo Gaucci, son of Luciano
Many theories emerge then. Libya being a former Italian colony, would Saadi’s transfer to an Italian club have been orchestrated by Berlusconi, then Prime Minister? A highly political transfer, which would aim to prove on the one hand Italy’s loyalty to Libya (especially with a view to future trade agreements), and which would on the other hand reboost Libya’s image after the Lockerbie bombing. Luciano Gaucci, himself, had relations with politicians, and necessarily saw an interest in recruiting the son of a head of state, however dictator he might be. « My father was happy when someone talked about him, assured his son, Riccardo, in an interview with Bleacher Report. His credo is that all publicity is good publicity. This story with Kadhafi caused publicity, and it could only be good publicity. It was in the papers every day, on TV every day. It was, for my father, what made him happy. One day he said to himself:« Why not hire the son of the then Libyan leader to play football? » And Saadi, from the start, was very happy with the idea. »
13 dream minutes against Juve
Basically, Saadi would have preferred to sign for Juventus because he has always been a supporter of the Old Lady, and a great admirer of Alessandro Del Piero. Problem: in 2002, a year before landing in Perugia, Saadi became … a shareholder of Juventus, through the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company and Tamoil, the sponsor of Juve. Impossible, therefore, for Luciano Moggi and Juve to imagine recruiting him. To the delight of another Luciano, Gaucci, who saw the player arrive in the summer of 2003, a happy summer for Perugia, who won the Intertoto Cup. The player is presented with great fanfare in a medieval castle, and the media from all over the world are present for the occasion. Perugia player that season, Emanuele Berrettoni remembers that Al-Jazeera television had simply sent a team to follow the player on a daily basis. « It was like a reality showhe recalls.But after a while, you got used to it. And he just became a footballer, like all of us.»
“The best comparison I can give you is of a 13 year old being placed in a higher age group”Salvatore Fresi
Finally, not really like everyone… In the opinion of his former teammates, Saadi Gaddafi was determined, hardworking, but did not at all have the makings of a professional footballer. As soon as he started training daily with the pro group, he was getting injured regularly. Former of Inter and Juve, Salvatore Fresi was loaned to Perugia that season. « The best comparison I can give you is of a 13 year old being placed in a higher age grouphe rewinds.He tried to give 100%, but physically he couldn’t. He was constantly hurting himself.“Too fair physically, and simply not suited to Serie A, Saadi Gaddafi only knew the bench during his first months in Italy. At the beginning of November, he tested positive for nandrolone during an anti-doping test, and took a three-month suspension.
His day of glory will finally take place on May 2, 2004. The coach, Serse Cosmi, offers him his first 13 minutes in Serie A, at the Renato Curi stadium. The adversary? Juventus, of course. The Italian media will suggest that a clause in Saadi’s contract stipulated that he had to play against Juventus, a version always denied by Gaucci. When Saadi Gaddafi comes into play at the 75e minute, Perugia leads 1-0, and Juve are reduced to ten following the expulsion of Ciro Ferrara. AccordingGazzetta dello Sportof the next day, the entry of Gaddafi allowed « restore digital equity”, the player literally moving with each ball touched. It will be his only official appearance for Perugia, who will be relegated at the end of the season. But Luciano Gaucci didn’t care: he had succeeded. The proof, nearly twenty years later, we are still talking about it.
By Eric Maggiori
Comments by Riccardo Gaucci, Salvatore Fresi and Emanuele Berrettoni from an interview with Bleacher Report