As I write this, Libyan rebels are in a desperate struggle to take control of their country from long-time despot Muammar Gaddafi. It’s not a situation that brings football to mind easily. Nonetheless, the game is ever-present, popping up as an ancillary story line to the drama.
Muammar’s third son, Saadi, was reportedly captured yesterday by rebel forces. Saadi is most famous for being the Gaddafi who managed to have a professional playing career of sorts. Despite being a mediocre player, and we’re being kind, Al-Saadi leveraged his name and his father’s ill-begotten oil fortune to land a starting job for Al-Ahly Tripoli in Libya’s league at the age of 27. From there it was a forced move to a better team, Al-Ittihad, where Al-Saadi won two league titles and managed to give the world this goal and an unsettling shirtless celebration.
Not satisfied with Libya’s low-level football, Saadi set out to
earn buy his way onto a Serie A side. None of the big clubs wanted him, unsurprisingly, so Saadi found the one man in Italian football who wasn’t above doing so: Luciano Gaucci, billionaire chairman of Perugia. Saadi’s stint with Perugia – a club that eventually went bankrupt, believe it or not – was only notable in the drama it created. After getting on the field for one match in three seasons and not touching the ball, Saadi left the imploding Umbrian club to try his luck with Udinese.
Saadi played in a single match with Udinese, hung on for one more season in Italy with Sampdoria (for whom he never made an appearance), then hung up his boots to return to Libya and take his place in the family business. Four years later, his capture is international news. And not because he played a little football.
Like almost any nation anywhere, the Libyans love their football. It it wasn’t evident before, it is made very clear by the chosen attire of some of those taking to the streets during the current unrest. Flip on your television, and you’re bound to see at least a few Libyans wearing the colors of Europe’s biggest clubs as they fight to bring down Muammar’s government. Considering the gravity of the situation and the momentous nature of the events, we’ll resist the urge to comment on the appropriateness of some of the choices.
Barca, Madrid, Inter…they’re all there. Libya’s revolution isn’t about football. But football is definitely a part of the revolution.