TRIPOLI (AFP) – Saadi Gaddafi, the playboy son of slain Libyan dictator Muammer Gaddafi extradited Thursday by Niger, dreamt in vain of a professional football career before failing to save his father’s regime.
On August 21, 2011, as the uprising against his father was at its peak, Saadi was commanding an elite military unit but said he was ready to give himself up “if my surrender stops the spilling of blood”.
Instead, he escaped south across the Sahara Desert to Niger, where he has been virtually off the radar screen ever since.
Born in 1973, Saadi was Gaddafi’s third son and unsuccessfully tried a career in Italian football.
He was trained as a military man, but despite being too big, too slow and a lack of technique, he dreamt of international football stardom.
After playing for a couple of Libyan sides in the early 2000s, when he hired Argentine football legend Diego Maradona to coach him privately, he moved to the Italian football scene.
When he was 20, he trained with Italian clubs Juventus and Lazio.
As chairman of the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Co. he managed LAFIC’s 7.5 percent stake in Turin’s legendary Juventus.
But he was forced to give up his role at Juventus when Perugia signed him in 2003. It was rumoured that Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi had pulled some string there in hopes of improving ties with the former North African colony.
Despite his first game being a media sensation, he played only once in two seasons — for 15 minutes against Juventus in 2004.
He had barely kicked a ball before being suspended for three months after testing positive for nandrolone, an anabolic steroid.
The next year he joined Udinese, for whom he played only 11 minutes, and Genoa’s Sampdoria a year later, where he got 10 minutes on the pitch.
- Luxury room for Dobermann -
Saadi was renowned for staying at the most exclusive hotels in Perugia and Udine, occupying an entire floor and protected by six bodyguards.
He even had a separate room for his pet Dobermann Pinscher, and the dog’s trainer.
He also had a private jet, six armoured Mercedes-Benz cars and a 10-metre-long (33-foot) limousine where he would often spend evenings watching DVDs on a plasma TV screen.
After his professional career ended in 2007, Saadi returned home, where he made few friends in the football scene.
“We felt hindered. He was still the son of the head of the state. He was not on equal footing,” the national team’s goalkeeper, Samir Abboud, recalled, saying Saadi could not even pass the ball.
Yet Saadi was fiercely proud of the epithet of “exceptional player” awarded him by one of Libya’s newspapers, all of which were regime controlled.
And if people kept him at arm’s length, that might have been explained in part by the fact that he had the manager of the Al-Ittihad club murdered for publicly criticising his skills.
After coming home, Saadi also returned to his military career, where he held the rank of colonel and head an elite unit.
After the uprising broke out, he was often seen alongside his father in fatigues, complete with bandoliers, and toting an assault rifle. But there was never any confirmation he was actively engaged in fighting during the eight-month conflict.
Despite setbacks suffered by loyalists early in the uprising, Saadi was unmoved, promising any territory lost would be regained “sooner or later”.
“There are people protesting against my father’s rule, it is normal. Everybody needs to be free to express their opinion,” he told the Financial Times in a February 2011 interview, downplaying the fact that many Libyan diplomats around the world had quit their posts.
After rebels overran Tripoli in August 2011, family albums dug up from Saadi’s seaside chalet told of Western nightclubs and luxury.
In the photos Saadi appeared to live up to his playboy reputation.
“I am forever grateful and blessed to have met you! May all your dreams in this New Year come true and keep doing what you are doing. It works. You can move mountains,” wrote a New Yorker called Linda, in a dedication to Saadi.
Others showed him with rapper friends, looking the part in a T-shirt and thick chain around his neck, or wearing a black suit and white shirt, circled by sinister-looking men.