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Last chance saloon for Diouf

El Hadji Diouf has always enjoyed courting controversy. Be it spitting, diving or being a general nuisance to all and sundry the Senegal international has a penchant for getting involved in the more unsavoury side of the game.

The lastest despicable incident on Saturday only serves to put his career at the top of the game in doubt.

Bolton manager Sam Allardyce has carved out a fine reputation for reviving the careers of fallen stars. With Diouf he has his work cut out.

Getting a player to perform with the ball is one thing, but changing their character is something entirely different. If there's trouble to be had it's no surprise to find Diouf in the vacinity.

After an inauspicious spell at Liverpool, Diouf had fallen into the shadows and was not given a squad number for this season. Allardyce came in to take the forward on a season-long loan.

Diouf has become something of a cult figure at the Reebok with fans delighted with his work rate and desire. But while he may be producing better performances, the darker side to his game remains.

We could be talking about his tendency to crumple in a heap at the merest of touches, but it's his habit of spitting at opposing players - and even worse supporters - that has again hit the headlines. It's pure filfth.

Portsmouth defender Arjan de Zeeuw is that latest to be on the end of the flying phlegm - receiving a shot from point-blank range at the Reebok.

Quite how De Zeeuw managed to keep his calm is remarkable as many would have lashed out after such an unprovoked attack.

And Diouf is a pathological expectorator.

In November 2002, a number of West Ham fans had alleged that he spat at them. A few months later he was caught on camera.

In March 2003, he fell into the spectators at the side of the Parkhead pitch during a UEFA Cup match at Celtic and took exception to the way he was handled. The response was a hefty spit - which understandably sparked fury among the fans.

He was banned for two games by UEFA and charged with assault - to which he pleaded not guilty. He eventually admitted to assault under provocation in September 2003 at Glasgow Sherrif's Court and was fined £5,000.

And a little over three weeks ago Middlesbrough supporters - in particular an 11-year-old boy - accused the former Sochaux, Rennes and Lens star of the same offence. He is alleged to have deliberately spat a mouthful of drink over fans sat behind the dug-out after being substituted.

After the De Zeeuw incident Bolton, quite rightly, responded immediately by fining Diouf the maximum two weeks' wages for his latest offence.

But does the 'two week' limit have a real impact upon the financial position of a player on the kind of money Diouf enjoys?

The limit was imposed during times when a fine of such proportions would seriously make a player stop and think. But the modern-day Premiership, where players can earn more in a week than most fans do in several years, is very different.

If Diouf is earning £35,000-a-week it may be hard in the pocket to miss out on two weeks' wages but he is not going to be on the bread line before the next month's wage packet of £150,000 comes in.

The structure is no longer provides a serious penalty. The Professional Footballers' Association must come up with a new system, be it for the Premiership alone, offence-by-offence, or means tested on individual cases based on what a player earns.

Indeed, should Bolton not be able to impose a fine fitting for the length of time they are without his services? He is likely to be suspended until the New Year - missing the packed festive programme.

Diouf: Accused of spitting the last time the sides met.
Diouf: Accused of spitting the last time the sides met.

There is no chance that the PFA will show some responsibility to the game as a whole and not only to their members. That will instead be left to the Football Association who must impose a large fine and at least a four-match ban.

Granted, chief executive Gordon Taylor's job is to protect the interests of his members - something which over the past few seasons he has achieved with remarkable success - but the punishment should be more severe in the case of a serial offender.

Taylor has attempted to play down the seriousness of the offence while condemning his actions. 'He has not committed murder,' insisted Taylor. Thanks for stating the obvious there, Gordon.

He is also keen to point out that Diouf has already been punished by his club - which although true it does not fit the crime.

In 1999, Arsenal's Patrick Vieira was fined £30,000 and banned for six games following a double misconduct charge for incidents at West Ham. Four of those games were imposed for Vieira spitting at Neil Ruddock.

Diouf's indiscretions go back years, and include being involved in a car crash that nearly ended his career while at Rennes - he was driving without a licence and lucky to escape with just a community service order.

And before joining Rennes he had been moved on by Sochaux after they grew tired of his poor behaviour.

At the African Nations Cup in February he was banned for three matches after being charged with violent conduct following incidents in the quarter-final with Tunisia.

In October this year he was banned from playing for Senegal for six months after being kicked out of the squad ahead of a World Cup qualifier in Liberia. The suspension came after he had spent much of the Friday evening in a Dakar night club.

After the failure of his two-year stint at Liverpool, Diouf was handed a great chance of reviving his career under a manager famed for working with wavering talent.

Although Diouf is still only aged 23, he is putting his long-term career at the top of the game in serious doubt. There is only so much that managers - and clubs - will put up with before cutting their loses. And that was very much the case at Liverpool after they were left feeling short-changed by the £11million signing.

Diouf had finally begun to show what can offer in the Premiership - only to throw all that work away with yet another crazy moment. He has to make it his last - but that's not something worth betting on.

He's seriously damaged his international prospects, and now his club career is hanging by a thread.

Liverpool fans may be concerned to hear that, after this season, he still has two years left on his Anfield contract.

  • Any thoughts? Then you can e-mail Dale Johnson.