In the spotlight

Published : Aug 22, 2009 00:00 IST

El-Hadji Diouf, 28, has already played for Sochaux, Rennes, Lens, Liverpool, Bolton, Sunderland and is now at Blackburn. That nomadic existence is symptomatic of a player who has never settled in one place long enough to flourish into a truly world-class star, writes Michael Klimes.

Even by the standards of the Barclays English Premier League, El-Hadji Diouf is a colourful character. The outgoing, often controversial, Senegalese striker clearly enjoys his status as one of the EPL’s elite — and all the trappings and attention that go with it. He has rarely shied away from the spotlight, but on the pitch there is a feeling that he has never quite lived up to the lofty heights he promised during his early career.

Diouf, 28, has already played for Sochaux, Rennes, Lens, Liverpool, Bolton, Sunderland and is now at Blackburn. That nomadic existence is symptomatic of a player who has never settled in one place long enough to flourish into a truly world-class star.

Diouf first shot to attention at the 2002 World Cup, where he was part of the Senegal side which stunned defending champion France in the opening game of the tournament.

It was a result that put the African nation on the football map, and when Senegal continued its run all the way to the quarterfinals, interest in its key players rocketed.

Diouf, who, the previous year, had been named African Footballer of the Year, led the exodus of Senegal’s star players to major European teams when he agreed a deal to join Liverpool before the tournament had even come to an end — with the likes of Papa Bouba Diop and Salif Diao soon following him to the English Premier League.

After his sensational performances in Korea and Japan, Diouf arrived at Anfield amid much hype and expectation, but he found it difficult to adjust to life on Merseyside and scored just six goals in 47 appearances in his debut campaign, with no goals in 33 games the season after.

By the time he left for Bolton in 2004 — first on loan and later a permanent deal — he was widely considered to be a flop by the Anfield fans, having also blotted his copybook with several incidents of ill-discipline during his time with the club, including spitting at a Celtic supporter during a UEFA Cup tie in 2003.

Better times followed at Bolton, where he netted nine goals in 23 EPL starts in his first campaign with the club. Yet, before long he was once again on the move, this time to Sunderland where his spell in 2008 proved even more short-lived. He soon fell out of favour with then boss Roy Keane and was sold on after just half a season to Blackburn.

On the international front, life has also been far from simple for the forward, and in October 2007 he announced his retirement from the Senegal set up after falling out with the management, only to later change his mind.

That is a claim he has recently repeated when, following Senegal’s failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, he announced in April that the time was right to step aside.

It remains to be seen, however, whether he will stick to his word this time. For where Diouf is concerned, it is often difficult to know exactly what the future holds.

Diouf’s career has been littered with controversial incidents, not least accusations of spitting at rival fans and players. He was charged by UEFA and handed a two-match ban for his actions towards a Celtic fan during a UEFA Cup tie in 2003 but appeared not to learn his lesson and was involved in another unseemly incident in 2004 when he spat in the face of Portsmouth’s Arjan de Zeeuw. Even his Bolton team-mates spoke out against the striker, with Gary Speed saying: “It’s something that you can’t defend. To be on the receiving end of that is probably the worst thing that can happen to you. It’s something that nobody wants to see in football.”

Diouf is married to Valerie. He is known to like his cars, and has owned a number of eye-catching vehicles in the past. He has more recently been spotted driving a GBP420,000 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren.

FactfileName: El-Hadji DioufPosition: StrikerClub: Blackburn RoversD.O.B.: 15/01/1981Senegal caps: 47Senegal goals: 18Senegal debut: 23/04/2000 v BeninMoment to remember

Diouf’s greatest achievement came on the international stage at the 2002 World Cup, where Senegal beat defending champion France in the opening game in one of the biggest tournament upsets of all time. Although not on the scoresheet in the game, he terrorised the Les Bleus defence. Diouf was named in FIFA’s World Cup All-Star team at the end of the tournament.

Moment to forget

Diouf arrived at Liverpool with high expectations but failed to ever settle on Merseyside and proved a major disappointment — particularly in his second season, where he was used sparingly by the Reds and struggled to hold down a regular place.

© PA Sport, 2009, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.

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