El Hadji Diouf: A Career of Controversy

senegal footballer el hadji diouf

Player Profile: El Hadji Diouf

Date of Birth: 15/01/1982

Height: 1.80 m

Position: Striker/Winger 

National Team: Senegal

International Caps: 70

International Goals: 24

El Hadji Diouf was never too far from controversy. It followed him around like a bad smell. He was hot-headed. Aggressive. And what many would call a ‘gobshite’. But when he let the football do the talking, he was unplayable. One of Senegal’s greatest of all time. Operating from the wing, as an attacking midfielder or upfront, he made 509 career appearances scoring 75 goals. And it all started in France in 1998. 

Early Career

Diouf made a name for himself in the junior leagues of Dakar, the city in which he was born and raised. Like many young African talents, it wasn’t long before he caught the attention of scouts from overseas. Ligue 1 side Sochaux showed keen interest in the Senegal youngster. And no wonder. He was tenacious. Pacy. Could finish. Cross. Graft. He had huge potential, and after a successful trial with the French side, he put pen to paper on his first professional contract. But things didn’t quite go to plan.

He made 18 appearances before several minor incidents resulted in the club offloading the teenager. Diouf spent the following season at Rennes, but once again his antics off the field caused the club to cut their losses well before his contract was due to expire. He was convicted for driving without a license and was involved in a car crash. Luckily for him, he was spared jail time due to his age and showing signs of remorse.

At Lens, Diouf’s third club in as many years, he started to show his true potential on the pitch. In the two years leading up to the 2002 World Cup, he scored 19 goals in 59 appearances. This form caught the attention of Gerard Houllier, who was manager of Liverpool at the time.

2002 World Cup

Ahead of Senegal’s opening group game with defending champions France rumours suggested Diouf had agreed personal terms with Liverpool. Those rumours intensified at full time after a man of the match performance helped Senegal to a shock 1-0 win. Lens initially denied the rumours. But two days later, on the 2nd June, the move was confirmed. El Hadji Diouf would join Liverpool at the end of the World Cup for a fee estimated to be around £10 million.

Throughout the remainder of the tournament, Diouf continued to shine. He helped lead the Lions of Teranga to the quarter-finals where they lost to Turkey in extra time. After a stuttering start to his professional career, Diouf had finally announced himself on the world scene. Liverpool had bagged themselves a serious player. Or so they thought. 

Life in England

Diouf’s time at Anfield was a complete disaster. The Senegal international bagged just three league goals across two seasons, the same number of accusations made against him for spitting at opposing players or fans during the same period.

In 2003 he was charged with assault and fined for spitting at a Celtic fan during a UEFA Cup game. He was also fined two weeks wages by the club. But he didn’t learn. A year on and he was once again charged by police, this time spitting at a young Middlesbrough fan and was later involved in an altercation with Portsmouth defender Arjan de Zeeuw. He received a three-match ban for his behaviour.

It’s also believed Diouf had a poor relationship with a number of Liverpool players including club legends Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. In 2015, after retiring from football, Diouf sensationally accused Gerrard and Liverpool as being racist. He claimed: “Liverpool isn’t a team that welcomes black people unless they are English.” 

Jamie Carragher recently described Diouf of having “One of the worst strike rates of any forward in Liverpool history. He’s the only no. 9 ever to go through a whole season without scoring, in fact he’s probably the only no. 9 of any club to do that.” With all that in mind, it will come as no surprise then that Diouf was shown the exit door at the start of the 2004/05 season. He joined Bolton Wanderers on loan, before signing for them permanently a year later.

Diouf’s flair and tenacity soon saw him become a fan favourite at the Reebok Stadium. During his four year stay, where he mainly operated from the wing, he bagged 24 goals in 136 appearances including Bolton’s first-ever goal in European competition. 

In 2009 Diouf once again made the headlines for the wrong reasons. He allegedly made a racial slur to an Everton ball-boy. The Bolton winger responded by claiming Everton fans racially abused him. Although no evidence was found.

A brief spell at Sunderland in 2008 was followed by three seasons at Blackburn Rovers where Diouf again linked up with Sam Allardyce. He was a key figure in the Rovers starting XI scoring 4 goals in 62 appearances. As always, though, trouble was right around the corner. 

In 2010 Diouf was arrested for motor offences in Manchester and in 2011, during Blackburn’s 1-0 win over QPR in the FA Cup, he was accused by Neil Warnock of taunting Jamie Mackie who was lying on the ground with a broken leg. In an interview after the game, Warnock said, “For many years I have thought he was the gutter type – I was going to call him a sewer rat, but that might be insulting to sewer rats. He is the lowest of the low.” Brutal. Warnock would sign Diouf a few years later. It’s a funny old world.

In 2010 Sam Allardyce was surprisingly sacked as Rovers manager and replaced by the unknown Steve Kean. Diouf failed to see eye to eye with the Scotsman, and when the midfielder turned up late for a preseason tour of Austria in 2011, the writing was on the wall. Diouf no longer had a future at Ewood Park.

Rangers and Scotland

Diouf joined Rangers on loan on the final day of the 2011 January transfer window. His brief spell at the club was, shall we say, chaotic? I mean, it was always going to be, right?

Putting El Hadji Diouf into an Old Firm Derby with the likes of Scott Brown, Neil Lennon and a ferocious Celtic fan base is like chucking fireworks into a bonfire. It’s gonna go off. And that’s exactly what happened. Twice.

In February 2011, Diouf clashed with Celtic captain Scott Brown in their Scottish Cup 5th round tie. The pair exchanged verbals on numerous occasions before Brown famously celebrated scoring Celtic’s equaliser by standing arms aloft in front of the Senegal international.

A month later and Diouf was once again in the thick of it. He was one of three Rangers players to be sent off during their 5th Round Scottish Cup replay following a touchline bust-up with Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Diouf would have the last laugh though, beating the Hoops 2-1 in the League Cup final and pipping their Glasgow rivals to the league title by a single a point.

Back to England

After a failed trial with West Ham, who at the time were managed by former Bolton and Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce, Diouf signed for Doncaster in October 2011. His spell there was brief and, as always, overshadowed by his antics off the pitch. In April 2012 Diouf, and 5 other men, were arrested in Manchester following reports of a nightclub brawl. No charges were brought against the footballer.

Following Doncaster’s relegation to League One Diouf was once again on the move. His next club surprised everyone. Leeds United, managed by Neil Warnock. The same Neil Warnock who, a few years prior, described the winger as “lower than a sewer rat.” Funny how things work out eh? To be fair Diouf was back to his best at Elland Road, and as a result, the club signed him on an 18-month contract. But after missing the 2013/14 preseason with an infected shin, he soon found game time limited. The club released Diouf at the end of the season after 52 appearances and seven goals.

Sabah FC

A career packed with controversy ended exactly how you’d imagine, with more controversy. After signing for Malaysian side Sabah FC, Diouf was handed the captains armband but angered fans and board members after declaring his admiration for fierce rivals JDT. Safe to say Diouf didn’t last long in Malaysia. He played just three games before retiring from professional football. Some career to be fair.

International Career

El Hadji Diouf earned 70 caps for Senegal scoring 24 goals. He played his best international football at the 2002 World Cup, where he was named in the tournament’s all-star team after guiding his country to the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. 

He was also part of the Senegal side that finished runners up in the 2002 African Cup of Nations. Diouf missed a vital penalty in their shootout loss to Cameroon in the final.

After 2002 Diouf failed to hit the same heights for his country. In 2007 he said he was retiring from international football but made a u-turn a month later. In 2011 he was banned from international football for five years after failing to attend a disciplinary hearing. The Senegal FA eventually reduced the ban a year later.

Where is El Hadji Diouf Now?

Since retiring from football, El Hadji Diouf has kept himself busy working as a government adviser on sport for Senegal President Macky Sall. He also runs his own sports newspaper and a gym.

Did You Know?

– El Hadji Diouf was awarded African Footballer of the Year in 2001 and 2002.