Diving is now part of game, says Diouf

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Controversy is not confined to the pitch with El Hadji Diouf. Last night the Senegalese striker revealed how he revels in his status as the pantomime villain of the Premiership but, more seriously, confessed to conning referees by indulging in theatrics that he insists are now endemic throughout English football.

In a rare interview, the Bolton Wanderers forward - who, as it transpired, is not just the snarling transgressor that upsets opponents throughout the land but also an engaging and humorous individual - claimed to have been unfairly singled out for criticism over diving when every professional, including native icons such as Wayne Rooney, now employs the cynical tactic in their armoury.

Diouf's admission that he knowingly cheats will hardly endear him to those hoping for a return of the Corinthian spirit, in fact it will further repulse them, yet his honesty should be appreciated if only for highlighting a problem that is too easily dismissed as a "foreign disease" and which Roy Keane recently identified as making officialdom impossible for referees. Namely, that everyone is at it.

"Every player dives, not just me. If you see Rooney - how many times does he dive to try and get a penalty? It's just because it's me that people talk about it," said the Senegalese international. "Sometimes when I need to dive to get a penalty it's because, for me, the best footballer is a footballer who is very clever. I don't leave my foot there so the guy can break my leg. I need to dive before the guy comes in. Sometimes the referee gives me a free-kick, sometimes he doesn't. That's just football. The problem is that, sometimes, the referee is not good with me as well. I am fouled and the referee doesn't give me a penalty because of my reputation." Diouf added: "I don't dive all the time. Sometimes, yes, like every player in the Premiership. How many penalties has Rooney won?"

The former Lens and Liverpool striker, however, believes more innocent reasons are to blame for the abuse he receives throughout the Premiership - "Everybody thinks I'm a bad boy when the people who know me know I'm a nice lad," said the regular for the kiss-and-tells. "I have a bad reputation because of things like wearing my baseball cap backwards and all of this bling bling." But Diouf admits he deliberately sets out to antagonise opposition supporters for his own, motivational purposes.

"I do something early to get people booing me, like at Everton last week at the kick-off," he said. "The referee [Uriah Rennie] wasn't happy with me when I pretended to give the ball to Gary Speed from the kick-off and he made me come back and do it again, but the crowd starting booing immediately. The referee had ticked me off even before the game had started! He wasn't happy, but I told Gary that I was going to do that. I wanted to get the crowd excited.

"I like being booed. Gary Speed told me that people never boo a bad player. When people boo me, it gives me 200 per cent power. I like it. I like 'hot' games when people boo me." Diouf's repertoire of infamy expanded a fortnight ago when he was caught on camera squeezing the genitals of Sheffield United goalkeeper, Paddy Kenny and, despite the notorious temper of Arsenal's Jens Lehmann, the striker has not ruled out a repeat when their paths cross at the Reebok today. "I was thinking about that when we watched videos of Arsenal this afternoon," he joked. "Jens is like me. He's not a bad lad but he has a bad reputation." Arsenal have not beaten Bolton on home soil since 2002 and Diouf also has a theory for that poor sequence. "Thierry Henry has told me that he doesn't like to play here and Arsène Wenger told my agent the same. They think it's too cold," he said.