After breaking through at just 16, the Nigerian was sacrificed so that the Rossoneri could sign a starlet from Sao Paulo – and the rest is history
In how many ways can a footballer make history? The most obvious is exploits on the field, winning championships, scoring goals.
There are also those who make history as cult heroes – silky skills, one-club loyalists or those who find a niche, such as a crazy way of taking a throw-in.
There are also players who make inadvertent history by being historic flops or disappointments.
With just two appearances for AC Milan after being signed aged 16, it would be simple to assign Mohammed Aliyu Datti into this category.
However, Aliyu Datti did make great history for Milan. Thanks to him, the club enjoyed its most succesful period this century, with Serie A and Champions League titles. Not through his ability on the pitch, however, but by him being sold.
Aliyu Dattis career spanned a little over a decade in Italian and Belgian football, during which time he became one of very few Nigerians to win the Scudetto. It may not have happened at all if not for the drawing of lots.
He arrived in Italy in 1997, aged just 15, to sign for Serie B club Padova. While nearly six foot tall (1.80 metres), he was of slender build, his pace and agility his greatest weapons as a striker.
However, there was an issue: Padova wanted to sign two Nigerian youngsters, Aliyu Datti and Hashimu Garba, but they only had one spot left in their non-EU player quota.
Former Padova president Cesare Vigano later revealed: “When I saw him [Aliyu] with Garba, I didnt know who to choose. They were both good, but I could have one. So, we cast lots at the dinner table in the evening, and Aliyu came out.”
Garba was released to Chievo, while Aliyu Datti managed to impress in Serie B, with Padova then Ravenna – enough to be scouted by Milan.
He made his Serie A debut for Milan as a 16-year-old on January 24, 1999, in the final minutes of a tight clash against Bologna, replacing Leonardo.
Coming on with the score at 2-2, he won the free kick which Bruno NGotty scored for the last-gasp winner. It was a crucial victory, as Milan went on to win the 1998-99 Scudetto by a single point from Lazio.
His talent was clearly seen by Milan, and even in the very early days of the internet, hype was beginning to build around him.
In summer 1999, during a pre-season friendly against Bayern Munich, he scored and provided two assists in a 4-0 victory.
However, his second Serie A appearance came 15 months after his first, a 2-2 draw with Torino – and ultimately, it was his last.
Having been kept from the limelight, Aliyu Datti faded at Milan. He spent time on loan at Monza and Siena – scoring his first professional goals with the former – but was forgotten at San Siro.
By 2003, Aliyu Datti was 21 and, having endured an unsuccesful loan at Siena where he spent most of his time on the bench, he was becoming more of a hinderance for Milan due to taking up one of their non-EU player slots – and they had seen another 21-year-old, in Sao Paulo, who they were prepared to bet the house on.
Kaka had been spotted by Milans scouts three years previously, and they were courting him assiduously.
Leonardo, the man Aliyu Datti had replaced on his debut, was now playing with Kaka at Sao Paulo and telling him the tales of Rossoneri greatness. Now, they wanted to bring in their man – but they had to make room for him first.
And so the old golden boy, Aliyu Datti, was sold to Standard Liege, and in came the Brazilian wonderkid.
When it became apparent within weeks of arriving that Kaka was the real deal, Milan sporting director Adriano Galliani was quick to seek praise – and relegate his former player to an anecdote.
He said: “The stars of the Kaka operation? Leonardo, [former Milan CEO Ariedo] Braida… I would add Galliani who, a month before buying Kaka, was inspired to sell Aliyu to Standard Liege to free up a place as a non-EU citizen.”
Aliyu, at least, found a home in Belgian football, scoring regularly with Standard Liege and Mons, later playing in the Europa League for Zulte Waregem.
However, having begun his career so young, Aliyu found himself burnt out, and quit the professional game aged 28 to become a scout back in Nigeria.
Kaka, meanwhile, went on to inspire Milans Serie A title triumph in 2004 and their Champions League victory in 2007, claiming the Ballon DOr in the same year.
Milan fans should remember, however, that this would not have been possible without Mohammed Aliyu Datti.