In late 2016, as America’s political and social milieu descended from tragedy to farce to Hieronymous Bosch tableau, a new portmanteau arose to describe an emerging social type: the failson. The failson is described by Felix Biederman as “the guy that goes downstairs at Thanksgiving, briefly mumbles, ‘Hi,’ everyone asks him how community college is going, he mumbles something about a 2.0 average, goes back upstairs with a loaf of bread and some peanut butter, and gets back to gaming and masturbating.”
Friends, I’m here to tell you about one spectacular failson and his part in keeping the world of soccer weird, and kinda creepy, as hell. His name is Al-Saadi Gaddafi. Maybe you’ve heard of his old man: Muammar Gaddafi.
If you’re unfamiliar with Papa Gaddafi’s body of work, my recommendation is to watch Adam Curtis’ 2016 documentary, Hypernormalisation (yes, all three hours of it), because it’s the best explanation of our current funhouse-hall-of-mirrors reality (the 90’s disaster movie montage set to Dream Baby Dream is worth your time in and of itself) and it actually gives a pretty good overview of Gaddafi’s rule of Libya.
Al-Saadi was born in 1973, the third of ten children, early in his father’s reign over Libya. He decided early on that he wanted to be a footballer, and given the special sway of his terrifying last name, he made his professional debut at the, errr, mature age of 27 for capital city club Al Ahli SC (Tripoli), where he lasted for an entire season.
He was then off to crosstown rivals Al-Ittihad Tripoli, where — at least on paper — he was a key contributor to the club’s success in the following years, scoring 20 goals in his 74 appearances, winning two Libyan Premier League titles, two Libyan Super Cup titles, and reaching the final in two editions of the Libyan Cup.
But here’s the thing: he actually sucked harder than a Dyson colonic. One trainer complained that “Even at twice his current speed he would still be twice as slow as slow itself.” Despite this, he was the only player in the Libyan league allowed to have his name on the back of the kit (everyone else had to go by number), and he was the only player who could be identified by name on television broadcasts. And lest you think that such deference to was unwarranted, there are allegations that that in 2005, Al-Saadi murdered Bashir Al-Riani, a former footballer and coach with Al-Ittihad. Oh, did we mention that Al-Saadi was also the head of the Libyan Football Federation at the same time he was a player?
One of the more bizarre and disturbing tales about Al-Saadi to emerge after the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011 is how he received an epic trolling from a rival club, prompting a brutal revenge. Al-Ahly Benghzi SC, a venerable club with a strong fan base, found itself near the bottom of the league table by 2000. The Benghazi club blamed Al-Saadi for using his position with the Football Federation to conspire to deprive them of talented players and to rig officiating against them. Tensions boiled over when an extremely dubious penalty call caused a relegation-triggering loss. A pitch invasion led to street protests, which led to a donkey being paraded around wearing a Al-Saadi’s replica jersey. In response, the Gaddafis had Al-Ahly’s stadium bulldozed and the club was both relegated and banned indefinitely from the league.
Unsurprisingly, this environment of Libyan footie made it difficult for the national team to convince other countries to play friendlies on Libyan soil. In 2003, Canada was feeling extra Canadian and agreed to come to Tripoli. When Al-Saadi (who was, of course, on the national team) came to be substituted out after Canada went up 3-1 he insisted on shaking hands with every single Canadian player on the field, and then went on to shake the hands of all of Canadian coaches, staff and players on the bench — making for this, the world’s longest substitution (watch what he does to a Libyan cop at 2:53):
By the early 2000’s, Al-Saadi was no longer content to make Libyan soccer a laughingstock and turned his eyes towards that land where there is something majestic even in its bad taste — Italy. Italian soccer has long been the haunt of heroes and madmen, and growing economic relations between Libya and Italy increased the Gaddafi family’s access to the murky business side of Il Calcio. There, they found a club owner nearly as bizarre as themselves.
In 2003, Perugia, a sometime Serie A club with a tragic and corrupt history, was owned by one Luciano Gaucci. Gaucci stood out even among the rogue’s gallery of Italian club owners as truly mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Noted for flamboyant publicity stunts and questionable ethics, Gaucci had previously pledged to sign the first woman player in Serie A history, and cutting Korean player Ahn Jung-Hwan for the sin of scoring the goal that eliminated Italy from the 2002 World Cup, sparking an EU probe.
Perugia signed Al-Saadi in the summer of 2003, to the befuddlement of just about everyone whose last name was neither Gaucci or Gaddafi. Gaucci admitted that the signing was largely politically motivated, stating: “Berlusconi called me up and encouraged me. He told me that having Qaddafi in the team is helping us build a relationship with Libya. If he plays badly, he plays badly. So be it.”
Despite intense public pleadings from Gaucci, manager Serse Cosmi refused to pretend the emperor was clothed, and found innumerable reasons to avoid playing Al-Saadi: he was sick, it wasn’t the right game, etc. All this despite Al-Saadi hiring Diego Maradona as his technical consultant and disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson as his personal trainer. On Oct. 5, 2003, without having seen a minute of play, Al-Saadi was found to have a banned substance in his urine and he was given a three month ban without once touching the pitch.
After serving his suspension, Al-Saadi finally saw action in April 2004, when he was allowed some substitution minutes in a key 1-0 victory over Juventus that allowed Perugia to dodge relegation. He was stricken by appendicitis almost immediately thereafter.
The following season saw Al-Saadi getting a whopping 11 minutes of play at Udinese (his official match stats: eight passes, one shot and two tackles). He was then put on the books at Sampdoria, but was not even allowed the regulation 10 minutes on the field there. Thus endeth the playing career of The Failson, his entire time in Italy being much more a tale of sex, drugs, and high living (including an Italian court order to pay a hotel bill totalling nearly a half million dollars) than of on-pitch heroics.
As you might know, things got a little weird in Libya in 2011. Al-Saadi stuck by his old man, but as the going got rough, he made international headlines by offering to broker a ceasefire in the ongoing civil war, which went nowhere. As the Gaddafi regime fell apart, Al-Saadi fled to Niger, where he was granted asylum on humanitarian grounds. However, in 2014, he was extradited back to Libya, under what his lawyer describes as the sketchiest of circumstances. In 2015, he was brought to brought to trial for the 2005 murder of Bashir Al-Riani, apparently having been subjected to severe mistreatment himself at that point. It is unclear if any kind of verdict was ever reached in this trial. A few months later, a video surfaced of Al-Saadi being abused in a Libyan prison which drew condemnations from Human Rights Watch.
After that, there appears to be no further public information about his fate.