Football: THAT WAS THE WEEKEND THAT WAS

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Dia is going downhill fast

Little more than a month after making his extraordinary 53-minute appearance in the Premiership for Southampton, Ali Dia, the Sengalese international supposedly recommended by George Weah, seems to have found something closer to his true ability level.

The 31-year-old striker, drummed out of The Dell by an embarrassed Graeme Souness with the words "false pretences" ringing in his ears, on Saturday made his fourth appearance for GM Vauxhall Conference strugglers Gateshead, whom he has joined for the rest of the season.

Alas, despite the qualities Souness was told he possessed, Dia has yet to galvanise Gateshead nor bring the crowds flocking to their International Stadium. Dia scored on his debut against Bath but, watched by a mere 466 spectators on Saturday, Gateshead failed to find the net for the third successive match, suffering a 1-0 home defeat against Halifax Town that leaves them eighth from bottom.

This followed a 2-0 home defeat against Stalybridge Celtic on Boxing Day in which, according to an eye-witness report, Dia's main contribution was to inadvertently block a goal-bound shot by top scorer Paul Thompson, so denying Gateshead the lead inside the first 10 seconds.

Dia, meanwhile, is dismissing the Southampton incident as "a complete misunderstanding".

"I know George," Dia has told local reporters. "We played together at Paris St-Germain, but the recommendation seems to have been a misunderstanding between Southampton and my London agent."

Dia, whose CV lists 13 international caps, also had trials with Bury, Port Vale and Portsmouth before taking up Gateshead's offer.

Dancers wrong footed

Spectators can hardly complain that the Premiership does not give them value for money these days, despite the forbidding prices printed on the tickets.

After all, every goal that flies in is quite likely to have a dance routine in its wake as players unveil a seemingly endless repertoire of pre-planned celebrations.

If truth be told, their appeal is beginning to suffer through over-use and there were more than a few yawns when Steve Claridge seemed to be joining the trend after his goal for Leicester City at Anfield on Boxing Day.

As team-mates rushed to mob him, Claridge backed away, holding up his hands as if to push them off - a Fox cornered by the hounds, perhaps? All neatly pre-planned and choreographed? Not at all. The explanation was somewhat more down to earth.

"The truth is I was knackered," he confessed. "I could hardly draw a breath. If they had all jumped on top of me, I would never have got up again!"

As he whiles away the hours between jobs, Frank Clark might be wise to avoid asking about recent results in Italy's Serie B.

Were he to do so, he would learn that Andrea Silenzi, the pounds 1.8m signing he believed at the time was such a coup for Nottingham Forest, has suddenly remembered how to score goals.

Silenzi, who failed to score even one goal in the Premiership, has hit four in half a dozen matches since joining Venezia on loan. If that were not rubbing enough salt in Clark's wounds, Venezia are pulling clear of the relegation zone as a result.

MISTAKEN

IDENTITY

What happened to Tomas Brolin, supposedly on loan to FC Zurich after his falling-out with Leeds? An alternative theory is that the stay- away Swede has actually been pursuing a closet career as an ice dancer. Brolin and Deane... it always had a nice ring to it at Leeds, don't you think? And George Graham did say he was skating on thin ice...

Good boys

THE PREMIERSHIP'S

LEADING SCORERS

Ian Wright

(Arsenal)

Premiership 15

Coca-Cola Cup 5 Europe 2. 22

Robbie Fowler

(Liverpool)

Premiership 11

Coca-Cola Cup 5; Europe 3. 19

Fabrizio Ravanelli

(Middlesbrough)

Premiership 9

Coca-Cola Cup 7. 16

Alan Shearer

(Newcastle)

Premiership 13

Coca-Cola Cup 1; Europe 1. 15

PREMIERSHIP TEAM OF THE WEEK

Kasey Keller

LEICESTER

Ruud Gullit

CHELSEA

Dion Dublin

COVENTRY

Colin Hendry

BLACKBURN

Julian Dicks

WEST HAM

Paul Merson

ARSENAL

Robert Lee

NEWCASTLE

John Barnes

LIVERPOOL

Les Ferdinand

NEWCASTLE

Darren Huckerby

COVENTRY

Marcus Gayle

WIMBLEDON

Take a bow

JOE KINNEAR

"I've been in the game 35 years and I haven't a grey hair. It's tinted," the Wimbledon manager joked after celebrating his 50th birthday on Saturday. Back on course for Europe with a 3-1 win, the best shoestring manager in football deserves the chance to prove himself with a big club.

Red card

THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE

For allowing a system to exist whereby Notts County v Plymouth Argyle was given the go-ahead by a local referee at 9am on Saturday, but was called off because of a frosty pitch by the match referee, Eddie Lomas, at 1.20pm. Surely the League can afford to pay for an overnight stay for match referees, so that they can make early decisions.

Rumours...

Both the Sunday Mirror and the People believe Alex Ferguson is ready to reinforce Manchester United's bid for European Cup glory with a plunge into the international transfer market. The People says he is poised with a "shock move" for the 28-year-old Yugoslav defender Miroslav Djukic, priced at a bargain pounds 700,000 by Deportivo La Coruna. The Mirror, however, reckons on a somewhat bigger target, suggesting a pounds 7m bid for the Benfica striker Joao Pinto. Liverpool and Blackburn are poised to join Middlesbrough in bidding for Paul Ince, according to the People, which reports that he will quit Italy next summer after rioting Internazionale fans forced his wife and son to shelter with other players' families inside a locked San Siro car park. The News of the World says Middlesbrough face a battle to keep Juninho in the face of a pounds 7.5m bid from Real Madrid. The Mail on Sunday reckons Frank Clark will be installed as Manchester City manager "tomorrow".

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