A footballer with history at Naxxar Lions and Mosta FC built a professional career by duping clubs into signing him using fake emails and video, a Swedish tabloid has claimed.
Alieu Darbo, 24, has played for clubs in Sweden, France, Croatia, Algeria and Egypt as well as Malta. As a youth player, he represented Gambia during the 2009 FIFA Under-17 World Cup.
But an investigation published in Swedish media outlet Aftonbladet alleges that his entire career has been built on smoke and mirrors.
According to Aftonbladet, Mr Darbo managed to wrangle a contract at Italian side Crotone, only for the club to tear up the deal just 24 hours later after it discovered that a pledge to sign him ostensibly sent by football heavyweights Bayern Munich was fake.
Why would I fake emails? I certainly didn't.- Alieu Darbo
The player also came within a whisker of landing a deal at Greek side PAOK Thessaloniki by leading the club to believe that he came recommended by German giants Borussia Dortmund, the Swedish newspaper alleged.
Mr Darbo has denied the claims, telling the paper he had never heard of claims that he had falsified emails.
"Why would I fake emails? I certainly didn't.... I have my version, but I just want to focus on my football right now," the player said.
The Swedish player's journeyman career took him to Mosta FC in July 2015 and second-tier club Naxxar Lions just last summer. Online football database transfermarkt.com still lists him as being a Naxxar player, but club president Pierre Sciberras told Times of Malta that the club had released Mr Darbo just one month into his contract.
“We released him in October, maybe November,” Mr Sciberras said, recalling how the club was not impressed by the player’s work ethic. “He didn’t play poorly, but he wasn’t disciplined. So we let him go.”
Mr Sciberras said he had been alerted to Mr Darbo through videos sent to him by the player’s alleged agent. “I receive 10 to 15 such requests a week. The videos seemed legit,” he told Times of Malta.
The Naxxar Lions president said that he had subsequently tried - and failed - to get in touch with the player's agent.
Mr Darbo’s short-lived Naxxar career was his second foray in Maltese football, coming after a four-month stint with neighbours Mosta FC back in early 2015. Mr Darbo was one of more than 40 players bought and sold by the club that season, according to transfermarkt records.
After making his debut in a 1-3 February defeat to Valletta FC, Mr Darbo featured sporadically for Mosta throughout the rest of the 2014-15 season.
Attempts to contact Mosta FC management and Mr Darbo's listed agent proved unsuccessful.
Although rare, it is not unheard of for football clubs to be tricked into signing players who are not all they claim to be.
More than a decade ago, a Sky documentary exposed Italian midfielder Alessandro Zarelli’s attempts to con various football clubs in Northern Ireland and Wales into signing him using fake letters and faxes.
Mr Zarelli, who now kits out for UK amateur club Heather St John’s FC, did not get very far with his scam.
But the same cannot be said for Ali Dia, a Senegalese footballer who in 1996 signed a one-month contract with UK Premier League club Southampton after convincing them that he was the cousin of footballing legend George Weah.
Mr Dia came on as a substitute in a league game, only to be substituted out that very same game. “He ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice,” recalled club legend Matthew Le Tissier.
With the cat out of the bag, Mr Dia was released by the embarrassed club just 14 days into his contract. He regularly tops lists of the worst football players to play in the UK top tier.
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