Take your pick of the stories which El Hadji Diouf’s team-mates will tell you bear out Steven Gerrard’s eviscerating assessment of the player’s brief career at Liverpool.
There was the Sunday morning at Bolton Wanderers when Diouf was still proclaiming himself the victim of an unjust sending-off in a heavy defeat the day before, though TV replays had revealed otherwise. An infuriated senior player – who must remain nameless – chased Diouf around the canteen.
And then there was the time at Liverpool when a 20-year-old Neil Mellor, on his debut and told by manager Gérard Houllier that he would take a penalty if one was awarded, had the ball wrenched from his hands by Diouf.
It is the stories from behind the scenes, rather than the more notorious examples of Diouf’s behaviour – the spitting at Celtic fans during Liverpool’s Uefa Cup quarter-final or taunting of QPR’s Jamie Mackie as he lay on the pitch with his leg broken – which are the ones that make you wonder why Diouf seemed so surprised that Gerrard let him have it in his new autobiography.
Football's spitting controversies
Football's spitting controversies
1/10 Frank Rijkaard vs Rudi Voller, 1990
One of the most unsavoury moments in World Cup history, and perhaps football's most notorious spitting controversy of all. First, the Dutch legend followed up a strong tackle of the mulleted German striker with a subtle spit at his opponent - Voller was booked for his protestations. The pair were later embroiled in a fracas that led to both receiving their marching orders. Before leaving the pitch, Rijkaard aimed another, more substantial mouthful at Voller's inviting mane.
2/10 Patrick Vieira vs Neil Ruddock, 1999
Two of the Premier League era's most fearsome hard men had battled throughout a feisty encounter between Arsenal and West Ham until Vieira received his marching orders. Employing Frank Rijkaard's 'Well, I've been sent off already' logic, Viera spat at Razor, and earned himself a six-match ban.
3/10 El-Hadji Diouf vs Celtic fans, 2003
The first of two appearances on the list by the controversial Senegalese winger, Diouf was banned for two games and fined by both Glasgow Crown Court and his club Liverpool after spitting at a Celtic fan during their UEFA Cup quarter-final clash. Diouf would later sign for Rangers in a bid to further endear himself to the Parkhead faithful.
4/10 Francesco Totti vs Christian Poulsen, 2004
Totti has courted controversy throughout his illustrious career, never more so than when he was banned for three games after taking it upon himself to spit at sometime-Liverpool midfielder Christian Poulsen at Euro 2004. "The true Francesco Totti is not the one on the video," the Roma legend explained.
5/10 El-Hadji Diouf vs Arjan De Zeuuw, 2004
Diouf, showing a Louis Suarez-esque ability to learn from his own mistakes, was in in the dock again and earned a three-game ban after firing a mouth-missile towards Arjan de Zeeuw during Bolton's 1-0 defeat to Portsmouth. Afterwards, he admitted: "My behaviour showed a lack of moral responsibility to the public who support me and I'm deeply sorry."
6/10 Fabian Barthez vs Abdellah El Achiri (a referee), 2005
Barthez's crime is of particular note given that it occurred during a friendly, as Marseille met Morocco's WAC Casablanca. Despite having already been substituted, the goalkeeper took it upon himself to run onto the pitch, wade into a brawl and spit at the referee. "I’m not guilty because I didn’t spit at his face,” Barthez insisted. He was banned for six months.
7/10 John Terry vs Carlos Tevez, 2008
The 2008 Champions League final wasn't the best of nights for the Chelsea skipper. Not only did he miss the crucial penalty in the shoot-out that handed the trophy to Manchester United, he was also accused of wiping his nose before subtly transferring the contents onto Carlos Tevez's neck. Terry denied wrongdoing and escaped punishment with the evidence inconclusive.
8/10 Lionel Messi vs Duda, 2008
Proof that even the game's true superstars can occasionally lose their head, and control of their saliva. Messi took exception to a challenge from the Brazilian defender during Barcelona's victory over Malaga and was caught by TV cameras appearing to aim a sneaky spit at his opponent's back, but no action was taken.
9/10 Cristiano Ronaldo vs Robbie Savage, 2009
The Portuguese superstar was by no means the first to be riled by Robbie Savage when the pair tussled during Manchester United's 4-1 FA Cup victory over Derby. Photos seemed to show Ronaldo aiming some phlegm in the direction of the Welshman during the incident, but Savage graciously insisted that "nothing happened" and his opponent was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Manchester United/Getty Images
10/10 George Boyd vs Joe Hart, 2014
Hull's clash with Manchester City was already an ill-tempered affair before Joe Hart took exception to how George Boyd went down under the goalkeeper's challenge. As the pair squared up, Boyd appeared to spit as he delivered a (verbal) mouthful into his opponents' face. "He wouldn't do that, no chance," insisted Hull manager Steve Bruce. The FA disagreed, and banned the Scottish midfielder for three games.
Jamie Carragher’s own autobiographical analysis of the Senegalese, seven years ago, was even more unsparing. Carragher adored Houllier, his first Liverpool manager, but he, like many at Anfield, has always felt that the Frenchman was rushed into signing Diouf on the basis of a scintillating World Cup for Senegal in 2002, when he excelled in the opening day defeat of champions France.
Many at Liverpool feel Houllier returned too early after heart surgery and did not investigate the big claims about the player being made by Patrice Bergues, his former assistant, who was managing the striker at Lens.
“I arrived for pre-season training anticipating my first view of the players who’d turn us into title winners,” Carragher writes in Carra. “I returned home the same evening in a state of depression. Do you remember being at school and picking sides for a game of football? We do this at Liverpool for the five-a-sides. Diouf was ‘last pick’ within a few weeks.”
Carragher, who knew a few players at Liverpool, reflected that he had never met one “who seemed to care less about winning or losing”. He relates the story of the FA Cup defeat at Portsmouth in 2004, which effectively sealed Houllier’s fate. Michael Owen, who had missed a penalty, was in a state of desolation at Melwood the following day. Diouf drove in with rave music blaring out of his car and “danced across the car park” into the building. “You’d think we’d won the Cup, the way he carried on. His attitude disgusted me,” Carragher wrote.
If Houllier had only inquired, he would have found that Diouf was already a liability at Lens. There had been spitting incidents there before he left for Merseyside. There was hope when Sam Allardyce took him to Bolton that the smaller club might suit him better, feeding his own need for the celebrity status he still enjoys in west Africa. One of the player-liaison staff at Bolton effectively became his full-time PA and eventually went with him to Blackburn. But while Allardyce knew he could play – “he could be brilliant in the final third, winning free-kicks, holding on to the ball,” says one of the manager’s staff – there was nearly always trouble. From week to week, no one knew whether he would be interested.
And it seems there was never any telling him. His default position when one of them called him out was evidently the same as when he was stopped by a police officer late at night. “That person was always a ‘rah-cist’,” says one source, remembering the player’s enunciation. No one seems at all surprised that Diouf has levelled the same accusation at Gerrard, in light of the autobiography.
Allardyce tried dropping him periodically. He felt there was enough of a mutual understanding to take him to Blackburn, where Gerrard’s distaste for Diouf can only have deepened when the player taunted Liverpool fans at Ewood in January 2011 during the 3-1 defeat that led to Roy Hodgson being sacked as manager. This time, it was Gerrard who missed a penalty.
When Allardyce was dismissed, Diouf went on loan to Rangers, returning to the Ewood dressing room wearing his Rangers title medal around his neck. Manager Steve Kean ordered him out. When Kean instructed him to train at irregular hours, he refused. The Professional Footballers’ Association was called in to mediate.
There was another side. The Bolton staff will tell you that he was always the last player to leave charity appearances. The Blackburn players loved his cars. He had his Cadillac Escalade “wrapped”, allowing him to change the colour every few months. Gold and silver were favourites. But it is hard to find a player to argue with Gerrard and Carragher’s assessment that buying him was a big mistake.
Towards the end, Neil Warnock found his experience useful at Leeds on the big occasions which Diouf loved – most notably a League Cup upset against Everton at Elland Road in 2012. “He loved the spotlight,” says one source acquainted with that period. “He liked the bigger occasions. But he didn’t generally do away games.”
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