I can’t be arsed writing the same story yet again, I thought. Just take what I wrote last year about Gradel, or in January about Howson, and where it says ‘Max’ or ‘Jonny’ just cross it out and put ‘Robert Snodgrass.’ Yet again, our best player is sold; for the second time in six months, the captain’s gone to Norwich; add Beckford, Johnson and Kilkenny to those two, and it’s another example of a first team regular sold without being replaced. But then, in a real departure from form, Leeds did replace Snodgrass. Problem is, they replaced him with El Hadji Diouf.
You don’t need a sensitive moral barometer to see this as yet another erosion of standards at Leeds. Just in pure football terms, one good game for Doncaster last season doesn’t erase the fact that Diouf the player has never been worth the fees, the wages, or the gold plated Cadillacs he has somehow accumulated. With a legendarily poor scoring record at Liverpool behind him, not to mention a legendarily poor attitude to training and teammates, is it fitting for Leeds to replace our finest player and club captain with a player who has been on the downward track for years, when we’re supposed to be on the up again?
Then there is his ‘reputation.’ Actually, it’s less a reputation, more a decade long list of outrages. From deliberately getting sent off for Bolton to go on international duty, to disappearing from pre-season at Blackburn; from spitting at players, to spitting at fans, to spitting at children; from driving without a licence, to drink driving; from threatening to fuck the family – including, “if you have like a one year old daughter, I fuck her too” – of a prank phone caller, to threatening to stab then team-mate Anton Ferdinand; from fighting in nightclubs to fighting in the Elland Road tunnel – there’s a consistency to El Hadji Diouf’s career, and it’s that he has consistently been a wanker. Has a club ever signed a player so soon after the closure of a Crown Prosecution File that, we’ve been told, involved a punch to a female member of its own staff? And has a club’s fans ever put a player’s history aside so quickly, just because we’re paying his wages for a while?
The argument that Diouf is ‘one of us’ just because he wears a Leeds shirt doesn’t hold with me. When a player like this signs, they have to earn the glory that comes with that shirt. Jody Morris came as a disgrace, acted like a disgrace, and left a disgrace. He was never Leeds, and neither, unless he does something to earn it, is Diouf. Much less is Diouf worthy of being called ‘Dirty Leeds,’ as if his career to date represents some model of what a LUFC player should be. The players who turned that insult into a compliment did it by being the absolute best that footballers could be, in training, on the pitch, and as people. They were fantastically talented players who developed a hard edge on the pitch so they could look out for each other and win. Would Norman Hunter spit at a fan, then drive away in a gold plated car, boasting about his earnings? No. What about more recent ‘Dirty Leeds’ players, like Vinnie Jones? Vinnie, taking time to look after disabled fans before every game, before going out and putting in the performance he knew had to, to keep hold of the honour of playing for Leeds United? Do you think Diouf really understands the concept of ‘Side Before Self’? When has he ever shown it? How is this man ‘Dirty Leeds,’ by any measure?
With the splits we’ve seen in the support over Bates in recent seasons, it’s madness that Neil Warnock should have brought such a divisive player to Leeds. Whatever you think of Diouf yourself, you can’t ignore the fact that the person stood next to you could well think the total opposite. When you’re trying to unite a broken football club behind a new team and a promotion push, a player like Diouf isn’t worth the odd goal he might chip in. As for replacing Snoddy, I’d rather we started this season with nobody to play that position, rather than Diouf; better yet, let a youngster like Poleon or Payne be the stopgap, if we need one. Or if we only could, give the 21 shirt back to Tony Yeboah, no matter how big he is now. I miss Yeboah, like I’ll miss Snoddy: players, and people, you would actually want to go to Elland Road to see.
From The Square Ball magazine 2012/13 issue one.