Crazy ‘toilet fight’ parties – inside story of El Hadji Diouf in Liverpool
For nomad Nicolas Anelka, a player who moved 13 times during his playing days, there was one in particular he felt should have been where his roots were placed.
It was December 2001 when the French international striker joined Liverpool on a mid-season loan from Paris Saint-Germain. With manager Gerard Houllier and assistant Phil Thompson looking for extra firepower for their Premier League title push in the second half of the campaign, Anelka made the Reds his fifth club at the age of 22 years old.
The electric Frenchman enjoyed his time under Houllier and netted five times in 22 appearances before the end of the season and it became widely speculated the move would be made permanent.
For reasons that remain to be clarified publicly, the dream would be destroyed. An official club statement confirmed the decision, stating: “After careful consideration, we have decided not to make the transfer of Nicolas Anelka from Paris St Germain permanent.
“It was a difficult decision and we know Nicolas will be very disappointed, but the manager has always had to do what he thinks is best for the club and the development of the team.”
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Houllier would later say: “I don’t want to expound on the reasons why I didn’t want to sign him, but I think he knows why and it has nothing to do with football.” Rumors about his brothers, who acted as his representatives, and their dubious demands swirled, which the late great Houllier briefly addressed in 2015. “I would have liked to keep Nicolas Anelka,” he said. “But his brothers didn’t help him.”
Speaking in his 2020 documentary ‘Misunderstood’, the player nicknamed ‘the Sulk’ for his sullen temper explained why he thought Liverpool was the place for him.
“Liverpool fans think I didn’t want to stay,” he said. “They need to know that was not the case. This episode was tragic for me. It’s a club where I could have done great things. I did well, they played the game I was looking for and the atmosphere was good. For me, there was no doubt, but it obviously did not suit Mr. Houllier.”
It’s fair to call the decision not to sign Anelka one of Liverpool’s great missteps of the 21st century. Or, more accurately, his choice of replacement was.
It’s been 20 years this week since El-Hadji Diouf was awarded by Anelka. Liverpool agreed a £10m deal with French club Lens, confirming the big-money transfer on June 1, 2002, a day after Senegal shocked the world with a win over title-holders France , in the opening game of the World Cup.
Diouf would inspire Senegal through to the quarter-finals in Japan and it looked like Houllier had pulled off a masterstroke by signing the enigmatic leader before his profile exploded after a fine few weeks at the tournament.
The reality once Diouf showed up at Anfield, however, was anything but. Six goals were scored in his two full seasons with the Reds, including a third on his debut in a win over Southampton. He remains, to this day, the only Liverpool No.9 to go an entire season without a goal.
The mere mention of the former Senegal star is now enough to make those who witnessed his form, attitude and conduct 20 years ago cringe. Two decades later, it seems those days are remembered all too well by those who were there.
ECHO contacted a number of Diouf’s former team-mates at Liverpool around this time. Interview requests were either politely declined or ignored altogether. “Nothing to say about him! Sorry,” was one of the replies. Point taken.
Those who were ready to talk say they noticed a change in Diouf’s attitude when he was named 2002 African Footballer of the Year in early 2003. Liverpool were turned down. For Diouf, it didn’t matter that he played for one of the most famous clubs in world football.
Former defender Jon Otsemobor recalls being woken up at around 2am by Diouf and a group of around ten others, just hours before Melwood training, in the mood to do the Party.
“I was still a young boy and I was just disappointed to think he took my friendship and used it,” Otsemobor told ECHO in 2020. “I felt back then, when i walked into the locker room you can’t just use me like that i’m your friend if he needed a place to stay and all that ok but i don’t throw parties for all the different people who flew around the country every weekend!”
The party lifestyle was something Diouf embraced as the field efforts continued. Those close to him at the time speak of a player who often arranged to meet in the trendy Living Rooms, a frequent haunt of footballers in the early 200s, before failing to show up, without notice, if a better offer came along the way.
An altercation with Everton supporters at another town center bar is told in detail. After hearing enough prods from Blues fans as he attempted to use the gentlemen, Diouf’s bombastic response – using expletive phrases unsuited to print on ECHO’s family pages – nearly provoked an uproar. riot, according to those who were there.
There was an aloof attitude to his personality that outweighed a generous streak. It is said that Diouf once invited a friend from Merseyside to Senegal to stay with him during the Africa Cup of Nations. Guest was stranded at Dakar airport after pre-arranged transport failed to arrive.
“Nobody came and he cut my calls,” says the guest. “If it wasn’t for Salif Diao, I would have been snookered! Over three weeks time [that was meant to be] visiting him, I saw him twice. Once on the beach, once in a nightclub. Neither was arranged!”
It is also claimed that Diouf and then club captain Steven Gerrard nearly came to blows in a heated pre-season exchange. In a live Instagram more than two years ago, Florent Sinama-Pongolle recounted the incident.
He said: “At half-time, in the locker room. Stevie G is like ‘you have to pass, you have to pass’ and [Diouf] just lose it. He didn’t speak English. His English sucked.
“They hated each other so much. Steven Gerrard comes in saying, ‘Hey, you fuck’. And [Diouf] couldn’t answer, so he grabs Gérard Houllier and says to him: ‘Tell him, f*** *** ***’. He came in and said, ‘I’m not his buddy, I’m going to do it right now!'”
For all the flaws, it is insisted that Diouf’s generosity was a great character trait. If flights were booked for him by club officials, he would always pay back far more than he owed and was always happy to spend hundreds of dollars on clothes for others at Liverpool designer store Wade Smith.
On the pitch, however, he plunged to new depths when he spat at a Celtic fan during a UEFA Cup game in 2003. He was fined £5,000 for the incident and embarrassed his club which shared a great relationship with the Scottish giants.
Houllier would later say: “His attitude at times, especially his habit of spitting, caused us problems. Perhaps I should have been more wary of him because, I remember, he did it once or twice times when he was warming up for games. I remember a game at Anfield when he got in trouble with the West Ham fans. And, of course, what happened at Celtic, when he spat on a Celtic fan, was totally irrelevant.”
For many, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He made his last Liverpool appearance of an 80-game career which was most memorable for his unsavory incidents in April 2004 before joining Bolton.
“The worst [team-mate I had] must be El Hadji Diouf,” said Jamie Carragher. “I actually liked playing against him because you could hit him then – you can’t hit your own players.”
Diouf’s legacy, two decades later, is marred only by controversy. The 41-year-old’s name is regularly brought up when the discussion of Liverpool’s worst signings comes up and there is little redemption time to counter such arguments.
A penny for the thought of Nicolas Anelka.