Blessed with pace

During his time at Bolton, El Hadji Diouf has proved himself a consistent Premier League performer, even though he has not hit the heights expected of him after 2002, writes Andy Hampson.

El Hadji Diouf is an enigmatic and controversial forward and is rated as one of Senegal’s greatest-ever players. He first came to Europe with Sochaux and with two other French clubs before moving to Liverpool after making his name at the 2002 World Cup. He then joined another Barclays English Premier League club Bolton in 2004.

Diouf is a skillful player blessed with an abundance of pace. On form he is a major asset to club and country, both as a goal-scorer and provider for others, but his career has often been undermined by controversy. He has a reputation for being fiery and aggressive, and a disruptive dressing room influence, but his popularity in Senegal remains undimmed following his 2002 performances.

Diouf came from humble beginnings. He was born in Dakar but grew up in the town of St. Louis, being brought up largely by his mother. He saw very little of his father — who now lives in Portugal — until a recent family reconciliation.

Diouf learnt his football in the sandy streets and was spotted by French talent scouts and invited to Sochaux. He played youth football there before moving to Rennes and then Lens, where he really started to establish himself.

It was at the 2002 World Cup in the Far East, however, that he truly announced himself, setting up Senegal’s stunning opening-day win over holder and former colonial master France. With Senegal impressing in the tournament and reaching the quarterfinals, Diouf became hot property and Liverpool — which had already been interested — swiftly concluded a GBP10million deal.

His arrival at Anfield was greeted with huge excitement but Diouf largely failed to live up to his potential. Indeed, it was only after he was moved to position on the right of midfield that he began to play with any great level of consistency.

He was named African Footballer of the Year in 2002 and 2003 but after going 16 months without a goal, Liverpool signalled an intention to cut its losses in the summer of 2004. He was allowed to join Bolton on a season-long loan and eventually completed a permanent move to the Reebok Stadium.

During his time at Bolton he has proved himself a consistent Premier League performer, even though he has not hit the heights expected of him after 2002. His best goal return for the Trotters has only been the nine he netted in 2004-05 but he has become a firm favourite of fans due to his flair and direct running.

Diouf remains a hero in Senegal. There were problems last year when he withdrew his availability for international selection, claiming he was unhappy with the team’s organisation.

But coach Henri Kasperczak named him in his next squad anyway and their differences appeared to be settled as Diouf went on to the African Nations Cup in January. He sat through a four-match international ban in 2004 after a verbal outburst at a referee.

Diouf has twice appeared in court following incidents of spitting. The first occurred in 2003 when he was fined GBP5,000 by Glasgow’s Sheriff Court for spitting on a Celtic supporter during a UEFA Cup visit with Liverpool.

He did not learn his lesson and a year later was fined GBP500 and ordered to pay GBP500 in costs after an 11-year-old was hit by his spit during a Bolton game at Middlesbrough. On top of that he has also served a 12-month driving ban after being found guilty of drunken driving.

Diouf was also investigated over an alleged assault on his wife Valerie in November 2006, although all charges were dropped. Diouf was arrested and questioned after a disagreement which allegedly left Valerie with a cut lip.

More recently he has shown his caring side and launched his own charity ‘The Dioufy Foundation’ to help under-privileged children in Africa.

Now back on the road, Diouf has been seen driving a Mercedes ML63 AMG, a powerful and sleek 4x4. Such models boast a top-speed of 155mph and cost around GBP74,000.

Factfile Name: El Hadji Diouf Position: Forward Club: Bolton DOB: 15/01/1981 Senegal caps: 43 Senegal goals: 16 Senegal debut: v Benin, April 2000 Moment to remember

The game that effectively launched Diouf’s career still stands out. He was still relatively unknown when the 2002 World Cup started, but he changed that within six minutes. With a blistering burst of pace, Diouf skipped past Marcel Desailly, leaving the ‘Rock’ on his backside. He tormented France’s defence throughout and set up the winning goal for Papa Bouba Diop.

Moment to forget

The nadir of Diouf’s career was perhaps when he was sent off against Portsmouth in November 2004 for yet another spitting offence. This time Pompey captain Arjan de Zeeuw was the man in the firing line. Diouf apologised but he was fined two weeks’ wages and banned for three matches for improper conduct.

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