Full name: El-Hadji Ousseynou Diouf
Born: 15 January 1981 in Dakar (Senegal)
Career as a player: 1998-1999: Sochaux. 1999-2000: Rennes. 2000-2002: Lens. 2002-2004: Liverpool. 2004-2005: Bolton Wanderers (on loan from Liverpool). 2005-2008: Bolton Wanderers. Since 28 July 2008: Sunderiand.
Honours as a player: African Footballer of the Year in 2002. Member of the 2002 FIFA Worid Cup™ All-Star team. 2002 Africa Cup of Nations runner-up. 2003 English League Cup winner. In 2004, he was named in the FIFA 100, a list of the 125 greatest living footballers selected by Pele. 41 caps and 16 goals for Senegal.
Miscellaneous: He is married with one child and another on the way and they figure prominently in Diouf’s collection of jewellery. “My medallion is made out of diamonds and it bears the names of my family – my mum, my wife and my daughter,” he says. Diouf is also proud of his outlandish dress sense. “My Sunderland team-mate Pascal Chimbonda doesn’t compare to me. I am a fashion victim and Pascal is a victim. Look at me, what’s the problem?” He is launching a monthly sports newspaper in Senegal called Eleven Star.
A thorn in the side
El-Hadji Diouf thrives on being the player that everyone loves to hate, insisting he would not want it to be any other way. However, beneath the Senegalese striker’s thick-skinned demeanour and the medallions amid his expensive jewellery, there lurks a heart of gold.
Diouf was just 15 years old when he left West Africa for France after being spotted by Sochaux scouts, but it was not long before he started upsetting people when he helped stun a whole nation. After furthering his football education at Sochaux, Rennes and Lens, Diouf bit the hand that fed him in the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals with a man-of-the-match display for the Senegal side that pulled off a sensational victory over reigning champions France in Seoul. The 21-year-old African Footballer of the Year’s endeavours earned him a £10-million move to Liverpool after manager Gerard Houllier chose against signing on-loan striker Nicolas Anelka.
With Liverpool languishing in Manchester United’s shadow, Diouf’s ability to play as an out-and-out striker or as a right-sided midfielder combining strength, pace and quick-thinking were seen as the ideal way to invigorate an attack that had become too reliant on England forwards Emile Heskey and Michael Owen. Unfortunately, though, Diouf failed to live up to the expectations generated by his FIFA World Cup™ exploits and after an explosive start when he scored twice on his Anfield debut in a 3-0 win over Southampton, he managed just one more Premier League goal throughout the whole 2002-2003 season.
BANNED BY UEFA
During the next campaign, things went from bad to worse for Diouf as he became the first Liverpool No. 9 in more than 50 years to fail to score a goal in a season, his barren run spanning 33 games and 14 months. Although he helped Liverpool beat Manchester United in the 2003 League Cup final, Diouf’s spell there was overshadowed by an unsavoury incident during a UEFA Cup tie against Celtic In Glasgow when he spat at a fan. He was banned by UEFA for two matches for that moment of madness and fined two weeks’ wages by his club. After issuing a public apology, he also handed over £60,000 to charity. He was also charged with assault in court, pleaded guilty and was fined another £5,000. It is said that leading Liverpool players such as Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were unimpressed with Diouf and he was soon deemed surplus to requirements by new boss Rafael Benitez.
That led to a loan deal at Bolton Wanderers for a season that eventually
led to a permanent deal, but controversy continued to stalk the forward. He was hit with a three-game ban following another unsavoury incident when he spat at Arjan de Zeeuw during a clash at Portsmouth. And then Diouf appeared in court to plead guilty to a charge of reckless behaviour after being accused of spitting at an 11-year-old boy at Middlesbrough. Plus, a British court banned Diouf from driving for 12 months when he was found guilty of a drink-driving offence after he had been out drinking champagne to celebrate an English Premier League win for Bolton.
Diouf, though, had already felt the long arm of the law, having ended up with a criminal record after crashing a Rennes team-mate’s car when driving without a licence as the teenager gained a reputation as a patty animal, which ptompted his move to Lens. “It’s true, I used to be a bit of a bad boy,” he once said. “But that has never stopped me succeeding wherever I have been. In any case, I change my character for nobody.”
It was not all bad, though, as Diouf emerged as a crowd favorite with Bolton under then manager Sam Allardyce and helped the unfashionable club secure a place in the UEFA Cup for the first time in its history. To top it all, he then scored Bolton’s first-ever goal in European competition in a 2-1 win against Lokomotiv Plovdiv at the Reehok Stadium in 2005.
“THE DIOUFY FOUNDATION”
However, Diouf became disillusioned with life at Bolton and after scoring the goal that ensured the Trotters’ remarkable escape from relegation, he looked for pastures new. Despite his reputation – indeed because of it – he found no shortage of clubs seeking his services. In the end, after rejecting the advances of
Portsmouth and Paris Saint-Germain, Diouf opted to sign a four-year deal at Sunderland, whose manager Roy Keane commented: “El-Hadji has always been the kind of player opposition teams and supporters love to hate, a thorn in the side. That’s why we’re delighted to now have him in our squad. I don’t care what he wears, drives or who he sleeps with. In the dressing room the lads will be thinking ‘I’m glad he’s next to me’.”
From Diouf’s perspective, Keane’s comments represented the ultimate back-handed compliment. “All I care about is succeeding on the pitch,” Diouf said. “I am a bad loser just like Roy Keane and I want to play football. We used to fight when Liverpool faced Manchester United. I know opposition supporters like to hate me but I’m totally comfortable with that. It’s because they know what I’m capable of and that inspires me. Anyway, opposing fans never boo a bad player.”
In contrast to his nasty and ostentatious side, Diouf has also proved he is a caring, considerate soul and has set up a charity to help disadvantaged children in Senegal and England called “The Dioufy Foundation” whose slogan is “Give The Kids A Chance”. Diouf established the charity with his close friend, hip-hop artist Akon. “Me and Akon do everything together because we grew up together,” Diouf told reporters in Sunderland. “We are the two most famous people in Senegal right now and we do things together because we are so lucky. We earn good money and like to help people back home. Some teams over in Senegal don’t have shirts, don’t have boots and we are helping them overcome that.”