With the 16th season of Major League Soccer underway, MLSsoccer.com looks back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made the league what it is today. We continue our "What Ever Happened To..." series with Senegalese scoring machine, 2000 Scoring Champion and MLS Best XI selection Mamadou Diallo.
Where He Was Then
Born in Senegal, Diallo joined the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2000. A career-long journeyman, he fit perfectly into the fast, physical game that MLS was at that time. His 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame could withstand the constant battles with the league’s biggest defenders, and his nose for the goal was second to none. In his first season, Big Mama struck for 26 goals, a mark that remains the second most ever scored in a single season.
But his legacy is stained by a tackle he made on August 16, 2000, when he slammed into New York goalkeeper Mike Ammann. Ammann suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung and a concussion, and spent five days in the hospital. Diallo claimed the collision was inadvertent, and he was neither whistled for a foul nor subject to any further discipline. But Ammann still contends that Diallo did it intentionally.
Either way, despite all of Big Mama’s goals—47 in just 74 appearances—the Amman incident remains the defining moment for Diallo’s MLS career.
Where He Is Now
There is static on the phone line from Dakar. The sounds of a street break through for a moment, then a heavily accented voice, unmistakable, unshakable.
“Hello, this is Big Mama.”
Big Mama. It’s one of the few nicknames in MLS history that has truly stuck. And it’s good to know that Mamadou Diallo still uses it. Because despite living a peripatetic existence during his professional career—15 different clubs, from the United States to the Saudi Arabia to Malaysia—one thing has remained constant in Diallo’s life: He is Big Mama.
“That’s true, that’s true,” he says, chuckling.
Diallo has done well for himself since retiring from the profession that took him all around the world. He hung up his cleats in 2006, when he was only 28, and moved back to Senegal. He was weary of the constant travel, of learning new teams, new cities, new cultures. He needed something more real, something with more roots. He got into the real-estate business.
[inline_node:331863]“When I was playing, I bought some land,” he says, “and on this land I made some apartments and houses. I am renting these.”
But being a landlord doesn’t suit someone like Big Mama – a player always wants to be in the game. Now 39, Diallo works with his longtime friend and former Senegal teammate, Salif Diao, a midfielder for English Premier League club Stoke City, helping promising young players get overseas, including to American colleges. He mentions two players at the University of Connecticut, Mamadou “Doudou” Diouf and Stephane Diop.
“They are doing very well there,” Diallo says. “I think Doudou will be in the MLS.”
MLS is still very much on Big Mama’s mind. Really, it never left. Despite playing in the league for only three seasons, from 2000 to '02, Diallo feels like his time in MLS and in the United States was the high point of his career.
“I really remember the time I played with Carlos Valderrama in Tampa Bay,” he says. “I had a nice time there.”
A “nice time” is an understatement. In his maiden season, Diallo scored 26 goals, just one fewer than Roy Lassiter’s all-time single-season record. He was named to the MLS Best XI.
“I scored a lot of nice goals, too,” he says. “It’s very difficult to say which was my best.”
But his great season remains tainted by the events of August 16, 2000. Midway through the first half of a home match with the MetroStars, Valderrama played a through ball to Diallo in behind the defense. The pass was a little long, and Ammann was able to get to it first. Diallo, however, didn’t pull out of the challenge, and the bottom of his right foot collided with Ammann’s head. The goalkeeper was stretched off and spent the next five days in the hospital.
In the following game, Ammann’s teammate Mike Petke famously revealed a T-shirt calling the tackle, the referee’s failure to deliver any punishment and the lack of any subsequent discipline, the “Crime of the Century."
Diallo doesn’t like talking about the incident. He mentions quickly he is still sorry for what happened and maintains that he did not intend to injure Ammann. But, as fate would have it, he joined the MetroStars in 2002.
[inline_node:331864]“When I came to New York, the fans were not happy,” he recalls. “My first game with them, against Kansas City, they started to boo me. But I scored the goal.”
The MetroStars drew that game, and Diallo exploded for four goals in the next one, a 5-0 win over the LA Galaxy. He finished the season with 11 goals in 17 appearances for New York.
But when the season was over, so was Diallo’s MLS career. He bounced around for a few more years, to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and South Africa. However, he always kept one foot in America. His wife still lives here, and his two sons were born here and have US citizenship.
“I was a little stupid to leave the US,” he says. “Because I like the USA. I regret leaving. I feel that if I had ended my career there, I could be the man to help bring MLS to Africa. My dream is to work with MLS in Africa to find players.”
MLS might someday want to look at the two younger Diallos.
“The older one is a striker like Mamadou,” the proud father says, “but the younger one is a very good No. 10. When I ask which national team they will play for, they tell me I should choose. I say, ‘No, you have to choose for yourself.’ The older boy tells me he wants to play for the team of the US. I will tell you this: The Diallo boys will play for the US.”
What They Said
“As I think back about Big Mama, I always remember that he was very emotional individual, by nature he showed the happy character of a kid and would always be smiling. As with most good goal-scorers, Mama thrived on putting the ball in the net, and when he didn't score it would affect him deeply causing frustration that would impact his performance.”
– Alfonso Mondelo, Tampa Bay coach in 2000
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