Ali Dia arrived at English Premier League Southampton back in November 1996. He had been signed by the then manager, Graeme Souness, purely on the basis of some hazy video footage and a phone call, purportedly from World Footballer of the Year George Weah, claiming to be the cousin of Ali Dia and recommending him for a place in the team.
Ali Dia was indeed a Sengalese footballer but he had certainly never played for Paris St Germain or his country, as was suggested in the phone call. Nevertheless Graeme Souness was bewitched, stars in his eyes, and lined the player up to have a run out in a reserve match friendly against Arsenal. However, due to a waterlogged pitch, that match was called off, and Ali Dia found himself on the bench for a first team match against Leeds that weekend. After about 30 minutes he was substituted on for the injured Matthew Le Tissier.
He was abysmal.
He lasted 53 minutes before being substituted off again…and he was never heard of again. Le Tissier recalled the story in a TV interview many years later and said:
“[He] was unbelievable. He ran around the pitch like Bambi on ice, it was very, very embarrassing to watch.”
Souness had been the subject of a hoax. The phone call from “George Weah” had actually been from a student friend of Ali Dia’s and, although he had played at the lower levels in France and Germany, he was nowhere near the level required to perform in the elite Premier League.
This week we have heard how Momentum Consulting have been involved in their very own Ali Dia hoax with the story of Stephen Wilce, placed by Momentum in the role of chief defence force scientist, breaking after an expose of fraudulent CV claims on the current affairs programme 60 Minutes. Wilce’s claims of armed combat experience and British Olympian sledging exploits were exposed as lies. He resigned from his post, which he had held for 5 years, the very next day.
Now obviously this is a trifle embarrassing for Momentum, it’s not a great look, but let’s be honest about this – nearly any recruitment company out there would have acted in exactly the same way. For what is our role as recruiters? I believe the chief and primary role is to identify, source, attract and present talent to our clients – but ultimately the final hiring decision has to come down to the client themselves and they have to take the brunt of responsibility for poor hires. This is the kind of role that any recruitment consultant would be unlikely to have real expert, deep, intimate understanding and knowledge of. Of course you can take a detailed job brief, do some research, and put together some sourcing strategies, but ultimately it is to be expected that the Three-Man Panel of Experts that Momentum put forward their short-list to should be the ones held accountable for failing to identify Wilce’s lies and inaccuracies.
Yet all week long we have heard Momentum being attacked in the media about their involvement in this, almost as if it is entirely their fault. The chief antagonist has been that walking tabloid Paul Henry on his Breakfast programme. He had John Key in on Monday – all he wanted to do was attack the recruitment agency – and John Key rightly deflected his ire towards the investigation that is underway for he knows that the deficiencies of Defence and Intelligence Service are going to come out way ahead of any mistakes made by Momentum. Yet the next day Paul Henry had James Sutherland in from Resume Check – again he insisted on turning the focus on the recruiter – even ridiculously suggesting they be removed from recruiting roles for the new Super City.
In many ways this is to be expected. People like Paul Henry make a living through sensationalism and he will often deploy the “shock jock” approach to news reporting to boost viewing figures among his scandal-hungry followers.
But what has really annoyed me is some of the smirking, holier-than-though, sycophancy on evidence by other recruiters. I know tall poppy syndrome is alive and kicking in New Zealand but don’t you people realise that any public attack on Momentum is, as far as the rest of the non-recruitment world is concerned, an attack on the entire recruitment industry as a whole? They don’t differentiate. The behaviour of one recruitment firm is a blueprint for the behaviour of the whole industry as far as they are concerned. If you hear of a car salesman selling a lemon on Target one night, does it just affect your views towards that car dealership, or the industry as a whole?
Earlier in the week I assumed that the level of criticism must be because Momentum had done absolutely no background checks at all, not even reference checks. And whilst I thought that was not ideal, I was able to recall many occurrences where clients of mine have told me that they will do the reference checks themselves, so I haven’t done them. I have even worked next to recruiters who have completed empty reference checks consisting of nothing but a full-stop, just so they can get the paperwork through the CRM system and get the invoicing sent out on time.
You know this happens out there.
But in this case I thought, well it’s Defence, if they told me that they would do the background checks then that, to me, would make a lot of sense and I would happily leave them to it. So what will be really interesting to hear is who was actually responsible for conducting employment reference checks and probity checks? Momentum or Defence?
I must say I have been surprised by the lack of comment from Momentum, apart from this response from MD Bede Ashby. Are they adopting a dignified silence? I for one am eagerly awaiting clarification on all of this because the longer it goes on, the worse it will be for the reputation of us as an entire recruitment industry, not just Momentum.
The final word has to go to Graeme Souness who released Ali Dia from his contract after just 2 weeks at the club (note the speedy response – how bad a candidate can Stephen Wilce really have been if he lasted 5 years in the job?) “I don’t feel I have been duped in the slightest,” explained Souness afterwards. “That’s just the way the world is these days.”