After moving back to Paris Saint-Germain from Spain in the summer of 2021, midfielders Kheira Hamraoui and Aminata Diallo had lots in common.
Both France internationals, they followed the same Muslim faith, stayed in the same hotel in their first few weeks at the Paris club and shared a summer holiday to Tanzania. They were also in the same place at the same time when a brutal attack occurred in Chatou, west of Paris, on November 4, 2021.
On that day, two years ago, the footballers’ lives took very different paths.
On the journey back home from a team dinner, Hamraoui and Diallo were stopped by two masked men. One hit Hamraoui with an iron bar, targeting her legs, and the other held Diallo to the steering wheel.
Reports soon emerged that Diallo was linked to the attack so she could take Hamraoui’s place in the PSG team.
In September 2022, 10 months on, Diallo and five men were arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault and criminal conspiracy. According to a police report, Diallo instigated the attack on Hamraoui, her motive being “violent jealousy”.
One man admitted to beating up Hamraoui and another is suspected of pinning Diallo to the steering wheel. The men claim to have acted on the orders of an unknown person whom they have not identified. They said Diallo instigated the attack.
Diallo has always maintained she is innocent.
The story has received global media coverage, with claims and counterclaims on both sides. Le Monde reported the theory of a revenge attack based on the relationship between Hamraoui and Eric Abidal, the former France men’s international and Barcelona men’s director of football, which was initially investigated as a lead by police. The public prosecutor confirmed Abidal has never been implicated in the investigation but was heard as a witness.
Police and psychiatric reports have been leaked, with French media reporting Diallo was found by one psychiatrist to have “undeniable personality disorders”. The player’s lawyer says that is “bull****”.
Details have emerged, again through French media, of malicious anonymous phone calls made to PSG players. Diallo’s home and car in Paris were also tapped and she was recorded saying, “They missed her… break her face.” Her lawyer does not dispute she said those words but argues the phrases are taken in isolation without context.
There has been what has been described as “collateral” damage too, with changes in the management at PSG and France’s national team thought to be further fallout from the incident. And, as well as criminal charges, Hamraoui and PSG are pursuing civil actions related to the case.
The aftershock has been felt far and wide.
A man referred to in initial reports as “Cesar M” — Cesar Mavacala, Diallo’s former advisor — is under police investigation for charges including threatening PSG with violence and “obtaining the departure of players (Hamraoui) and sports managers (Didier Olle-Nicolle) from PSG by coercion”. There have been claims of organised gang fraud said to be linked to Mavacala’s case, and an allegation of sexual assault against former PSG coach Olle-Nicolle that is strenuously denied.
Mavacala, who has never been a registered agent, is the partner of former PSG player Kadidiatou Diani and the sporting advisor of PSG and France striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto.
“My client categorically denies any involvement whatsoever in the acts of which he has been unjustly accused,” Mavacala’s lawyer Sandrine Pegand told The Athletic.
But at the centre of it all are the two former PSG team-mates, Hamraoui and Diallo, forever linked by the events of that night in November two years ago.
Hamraoui, now 33, has written a book — ‘Kheira a contre-pied’, which roughly translates to “Kheira on the counter-attack” — and is filming a documentary about the case. She left PSG in May 2023, saying the club had “abandoned” her, and joined Club America in Mexico in September.
“Would they (PSG) have done the same to me if I’d been a man?” she wrote in her book. “Certainly not… My story is very revealing of what women represent in the world of football today.”
Diallo, 28, now plays for Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia. It is unclear when the investigation will end and too early to confirm if or when the case will go to a trial.
“This period is very complex for her,’ says Diallo’s lawyer, Romain Ruiz. “On the one hand, she has all the pressure (of the case) and on the other hand, Kheira, she was a friend, said to the police: ‘Aminata did that to me and I’m sure of that’.”
Hamraoui’s lawyer denies her client told the police she thought Diallo was behind the attack.
The Athletic has spoken to those close to PSG, the players’ lawyers and the public prosecutor to unpick the tangled web of what has happened to Hamraoui, Diallo and Mavacala since November 4 2021.
Eleven months since PSG’s Kheira Hamraoui was beaten with an iron bar, this is where we are
When her PSG contract expired in May 2023, Hamraoui said in a social media post she was turning a page after two years of “an infernal storm” at a club that “abandoned” her and “did everything it could to make (her) leave”.
In January 2022, two months following the attack, Hamraoui returned to the pitch for PSG but experienced a turbulent second half of the season. On February 11, during a PSG men’s game against Rennes, supporters held banners which read: “Aminata Diallo, we strongly support you”, and “Kheira Hamraoui, whose turn is it?”, referring to claims about the number of lovers Hamraoui has allegedly had.
“The goal was to be sure that Kheira would no longer play at PSG,” says Hamraoui’s lawyer Julia Minkowski.
“She has been psychologically assaulted for 10 months,” her agent Sonia Souid told L’Equipe in September 2022. “She has been dragged through the mud, threatened with death, insulted, harassed at her workplace by several team-mates.”
Hamraoui had a year left on her PSG contract and was determined to honour it but felt the club were trying to force her out.
“Perhaps PSG were unable or unwilling to deal with all the media attention for reasons other than sporting ones,” Hamraoui told AFP in September this year. “They chose the easy way out by trying to push me out before the end of my contract.”
This was a marked change of tone from Hamraoui. In an interview with L’Equipe in June 2022, Hamraoui had said: “The vast majority of (players) supported me. I was also touched by the support of the whole staff and the club. My return would have been much more difficult if I had not been supported.”
However, in Hamraoui’s book, in a chapter titled ‘PSG, an inhumane club’, she claims she could not appear in any club footage, she was not called up at the same time as her team-mates in June ahead of the 2022-23 season and was not informed of planned squad meetings. She says her physio appointments were delayed and she was initially not invited to complete compulsory medical tests in July.
The 33-year-old also says she was given one T-shirt — not two — at the start of the 2022-23 season, when usually players receive new kit. Hamraoui claims that when the team went to Spain for a pre-season trip, the new sporting director Angelo Castellazzi told her to stay in Paris.
Those close to PSG, who like others in this article wish to remain anonymous to honour the legal process, maintain they acted as responsibly and sensitively as possible. They acknowledge Hamraoui was always considered to be the victim of the attack and their priority has always been to support the player. They have fully complied with the police authorities and have refrained from commenting publicly out of respect for the judicial process. They believe Hamraoui was treated on an equal footing with her team-mates. She also appeared in some of the club’s social media posts during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons.
PSG changed the women’s manager, assistant coaches and sporting director after deciding to take the club in a different direction, appointing the former Lyon head coach Gerard Precheur as their new boss on August 1 2022. He left his role by mutual consent in September 2023 with the club citing “personal reasons” for his departure.
The new coach and sporting director assessed the team and decided which players would stay. Midfielder Hamraoui was told she would no longer be part of the new project, and that the club intended to recruit players with different technical profiles. They signed other midfielders, including Jackie Groenen from Manchester United and Lieke Martens from Barcelona.
Hamraoui claims Castellazzi told her agent that she would not be part of the team and she had to leave. But she turned down offers for a loan move from Manchester United, Juventus, Inter Milan, Roma and Parma to stay at PSG.
She made only five league starts in the first half of the season. When the transfer window opened in January 2023, Hamraoui claims PSG’s sporting director informed her agent they were going to recruit other midfielders and she had to leave.
But Hamraoui stayed, and in February the then-France manager Corinne Diacre surprisingly named her in the squad for the Tournoi de France, a friendly international tournament.
On February 15, Hamraoui started in France’s 1-0 win over Denmark. It was her 40th cap, one year after her previous national team appearance.
Three days after a disappointing 0-0 draw with Norway in the final match of that tournament, France captain and defender Wendie Renard announced her withdrawal from the France squad with the World Cup only five months away.
Renard said she could “no longer support the current system which is far from the requirements of the highest level. It is a sad day but necessary to preserve my mental health.”
Diani and Katoto followed.
“If profound changes are introduced, I’ll be back,” said Diani.
“I am no longer in line with the management of the France team nor the values it promotes,” added Katoto.
Diacre was sacked as France’s head coach on March 9 and was replaced by Herve Renard (no relation to Wendie) on March 30. On the same day, police interviewed Diacre as a witness concerning the Hamraoui case.
Diacre said she was the target of intimidation in the spring of 2022 to remove Hamraoui from the national team. This was confirmed by Diacre’s lawyer Christophe Ayela and the public prosecutor.
Hamraoui did not make France’s 2023 World Cup squad. After the announcement, she told radio station France Inter: “I’m very sad and angry. I see it as an injustice.” The once Champions League winner still dreams of returning to the national team for next year’s Olympics in Paris.
“One day, we may find out what was behind my ousting,” Hamraoui told AFP. “I am convinced that if I had been Swedish, English or Spanish, I would never have been abandoned by my federation or my club, as I was after my attack. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: in France, we don’t like victims.”
Hamraoui thinks she was dispensed with by PSG so the club could protect their reputation.
“They wash their dirty laundry as a family, and try to hush things up or get rid of troublesome elements in order to save face,” she wrote in her book. “Nothing must show in public. On the other hand, I’m a woman, and the sad reality is that the club doesn’t give a damn about women’s football.”
Sources from PSG firmly deny all of these claims. It is to be noted that the club invested in their women’s team much earlier than many others. In January, the women’s team will move into the new state-of-the-art training centre in Poissy alongside the men’s.
A PSG spokesperson said: “Kheira Hamraoui explained in her own words in an interview with L’Equipe on June 15 2022 how she was touched by the support of the whole staff and the club (PSG) and how things would have been much more difficult if she had not been supported.
“The club acted responsibly and sensitively to support and provide care while adhering to the proper legal process. The club’s priority was to support Kheira Hamraoui and maintain the best possible climate within the dressing room, despite the circumstances and legal proceedings.”
“She’s in the middle of a media crisis,” says Ruiz. “People are saying that she is a witch, guilty, and what she has done to Kheira is a disgrace. She’s under pressure.”
Following the attack, Diallo played 15 more times for PSG and her contract expired in the summer of 2022. She stopped playing solely to focus on the case, according to one of her lawyers, Mourad Battikh, and was charged in September last year.
Diallo was put under strict judicial supervision but a judge accepted her lawyers’ request to modify her bail conditions to allow her to work abroad. In January 2023, she joined Liga F side Levante on a six-month contract but her 12-month option to extend was not triggered.
In August this year, Diallo joined Al Nassr, the club Cristiano Ronaldo plays for, in Saudi Arabia.
According to Ruiz, she decided to move to the Middle East for some “fresh air”, to experience a new league, be closer aligned with her Muslim values and escape the scrutiny from the French media.
Diallo, though, is still on bail and is forbidden to enter into contact with the possible co-perpetrators or accomplices of the case, Harmaoui, witnesses or particular members of the PSG team and management. She could be summoned by the judge at any point.
In June 2023, Diallo saw a psychiatrist — a requirement of French law in cases such as these, according to her lawyer Ruiz. She had three appointments, some of which lasted nine and a half hours, an occurrence her lawyer says he has never seen before.
Dr Isabelle Teillet, the psychiatrist, noted, according to a report in Le Journal du Dimanche, Diallo “shows no particular psychopathological traits” but did present “undeniable personality disorders”.
“That’s bull****,” said Ruiz. “The psychiatric report shows that it is not Diallo’s personality that the expert considers to be disturbed, but it is only on reading the file sent to her by the judge that she speaks of a ‘personality disorder’”.
Another police report, quoted in Le Parisien, described Diallo’s hatred for Hamraoui as “a slow, downward psychological spiral that has become pathological”.
“That’s real bull****,” Ruiz tells The Athletic. “The police are not doctors or psychiatrists. They are not really great investigators. My advice to them is to keep in their field.”
Diallo’s lawyers want the recordings of Diallo’s conversations in her car and flat to be disregarded from the case. French media have reported she was wiretapped for six months from April 2022, when she was living in Paris. The judge’s decision will be heard on November 24.
The recordings from after the assault appeared particularly damning. Diallo is heard saying: “She had nothing, brother. We don’t give a damn… Her attack, who cares… She didn’t even stay a day in hospital… She didn’t get anything, brother… They missed her… break her face.”
Her lawyers confirm Diallo said these things but maintain her words are taken out of context. They argue the way in which the police acquired the recordings from her car and flat was illegal. “The police asked for authorisation but based on false hypotheses,” says Ruiz.
It is a legal technicality but Hamraoui’s lawyer Minkowski believes the recordings are relevant.
“That is why they want them out,” she tells The Athletic. “Usually, if you ask something to be out of a file, you have a good reason for that.”
Mavacala is Diani’s partner and advises Katoto — two of the three players who stepped down from the France national team before Diacre’s dismissal. He was also very close to Diallo and, although not a registered agent, was her advisor in 2022.
He is also facing criminal charges: Mavacala is suspected of trying to gain a financial or other advantage by violence, threats of violence or coercion by claiming that Katoto would only extend her contract if Hamraoui left PSG at the end of the 2021-22 season.
Hamraoui would not leave the club for another year, but Katoto signed a three-year contract anyway worth a reported €600,000 (now £521,000; $643,000) gross annual salary in July 2022.
Mavacala denies any wrongdoing, and while the investigation continues he is under judicial supervision — similar to conditional bail — and banned from appearing at PSG’s headquarters, the women’s training centre and any football stadium. He is also forbidden to make contact with Hamraoui, Diallo and four former and current PSG employees.
“He (Mavacala) represents other players of the team — even if he has no formal licence to be an agent,” says Hamraoui’s lawyer Minkowski, claiming: “He tried to negotiate these contracts with one condition: Kheira leaves the team.”
Mavacala is also suspected of having been behind claims that led to the departure of former PSG head coach Olle-Nicolle. On May 24 2022, PSG suspended Olle-Nicolle by mutual consent after saying some of the club’s players were allegedly exposed to “inappropriate actions and comments”.
The public prosecutor announced the opening of a judicial investigation for “sexual assault by a person in authority” in May 2022 but no charges were brought.
PSG also launched a formal investigation and then released a statement on July 31 which said the club and Olle-Nicolle had “decided to end their collaboration by mutual agreement”. It added: “Paris Saint-Germain specifies that, following the internal investigation carried out on May 24, no fault or misconduct has been found against him.”
On June 23 of this year, however, former PSG player Diani, Mavacala’s partner, lodged a complaint of sexual assault against Olle-Nicolle and the public prosecutor opened another investigation.
Le Parisien reported that, in August 2021, Olle-Nicolle was alleged to have touched several players’ bottoms — including Diani’s — with a miniature baseball bat, and also put his hand on Diani’s bottom. Olle-Nicolle firmly denies all the accusations and said he knows nothing about the incidents.
“The investigation into who is behind these unfounded accusations revealed the active role played by Ms Diani’s partner,” claimed Olle-Nicolle in a statement provided by his lawyer, Guillaume Traynard.
“Didier Olle-Nicolle notes that the new complaint against him comes only a few weeks after he filed a civil action against Ms Diani’s partner, in the case in which the latter is under investigation for organised fraud.
“He deplores the fact that this complaint is being used as a means of settling scores and condemns the attempt to manipulate the justice system, of which he is once again a victim.” Olle-Nicolle has subsequently filed a complaint with the public prosecutor for libel.
Diani’s complaint against Olle-Nicolle was filed on June 23, seven days before her PSG contract expired. She joined Lyon on a four-year deal on August 1.
The police, L’Equipe report, believe Mavacala — Diani’s partner — threatened PSG with the public release of the sexual assault story if the club did not agree to his demands for Diani’s contract renewal. Mavacala’s lawyer Pegand denied this, telling L’Equipe: “Cesar Mavacala protests his innocence.”
Regarding Diani’s complaint, Pegand told Le Parisien: “Like many victims of sexual abuse, the first option is to remain silent. So we had to encourage people to speak out and give my client the time she needed to bring her case before the courts.”
“I was used…” Olle-Nicolle told L’Equipe in September 2022. “(I am) a collateral victim of the Hamraoui case.”
So what happens now?
Given there are now two main criminal cases (Hamraoui’s attack and the charges against Mavacala), the judge will conduct further investigations.
“What the investigation has to now determine is whether Mavacala just jumped on the opportunity of the attack or if there were other things,” says Hamraoui’s lawyer, Minkowski.
If there is a trial, it could be at least another year for a date to be set. It would be public with three judges. All those charged and civil parties seeking damages would also be present and questioned.
Diallo’s lawyer says she maintains her innocence and will not plead guilty for a lesser sentence.
“Since day one, the police have decided that it was Aminata Diallo,” Ruiz tells The Athletic. “They ended all of the leads that used to be real at the beginning of this case. That’s the reason why I feel the police do not do their jobs properly. It’s too late (now) to follow the other leads.”
Diallo’s fear of going to prison and serving a sentence — which could be up to 10 years for criminal conspiracy — weighs on her shoulders.
“It’s a big fear for her,” Ruiz says. “She doesn’t want to be sent to jail. Her main fear is that she can be found guilty of something she didn’t do.”
Diallo’s lawyers say the police have still not found the person who ordered the attack on Hamraoui.
As for Hamraoui, her lawyer believes it is too long for a victim to wait three years for a trial.
This case is far from over.
(Top photos: ANP/Getty Images; Aurelien Meunier/PSG via Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)