Wednesday, February 02, 2011

El Hadji Diouf and Football's Bad Boys


Craig Burley reacts to Rangers' signing of El Hadji Diouf with a reasoned treatise on the power of forgiveness and moving soliloquy about avoiding the temptation to pre-judge people based on their past mistakes.

Well, no. He doesn't.

Rather Craig gets out his crampons and heads straight for the highest peak on the moral high ground. And suggests that Diouf should bally well head off to whatever bit of that foreign world abroad that he comes from.

Predictable for Burley, the unthinking man's pundit.

But is the reaction understandable?

Diouf has been a bad boy in the past. A bad boy many times over. Spitting at someone is disgusting. That Diouf has done it more than once is a pretty sad indictment of him as a person.

The allegations that he abused Jamie Mackie as the QPR player suffered a broken leg in a recent FA Cup clash are sickening and don't point to a reformed character.

Along the way there's been various motoring offences, accusations of racism and an international ban for abusing a referee.

Easy to look at that CV and think that we're dealing with a thoroughly nasty piece of work. And maybe we are.

So we can ask what Rangers are playing at having anything to do with him.

But are Rangers not simply exercising the pragmatism that the whole sport adopts when faced with a "bad 'un?"

Listening to some of the outrage that greeted his loan deal it would be easy to draw the conclusion that Diouf is the nastiest person to have ever been involved in the great Corinthian world of sport.

But football is full of bad boys, idiots and nasty pieces of work.

At least one current English Premier League star has been jailed for assault. Countless footballers past and present have been found guilty of drink driving. One of the greatest players of recent generations openly admitted to taking to the pitch with the intention of injuring an opponent.

Vinnie Jones became a celebrity on the back of "taking violence off the terracing and onto the pitch."

Andy Carroll, no stranger to controversy and with a conviction for common assault, became a £35 million striker on the same day that there were howls of anguish about Diouf coming to Rangers.

QPR manager Neil Warnock described Diouf as being lower than a sewer rat. Perhaps that's fitting when so many of our footballers seem to share the morals of those long tails with personal lives that would make Tommy Sheridan blush.

Possibly none of these offences are any more serious than Diouf's actions although I find it hard to see how many of them are less serious. Certainly I can't see how any of them are better role models for the generation of children that Diouf is accused of betraying.

And the game has not, as Craig Burley suggests it should with El Hadji Diouf, run these players from our shores.

If nothing else that suggests a double standard at play.

The idea that Diouf's behaviour is worse because it has happened on the pitch shows the staggeringly inflated sense of its own importance that is now football's curse.

But I honestly can't imagine Craig Burley being so worked up if Rangers had signed, say Patrick Kluivert, who was convicted of manslaughter for a driving offence that resulted in a death and had a litany of off-field incidents behind him. To me that's odd.

Perhaps there are fundamental sociological reasons why football throws up such incidences of bad behaviour.

But surely the truth is we are all implicit in condoning it. El Hadji Diouf has been employed by eight different clubs. Joey Barton earns £50,000 a week. We still go to the games, we still pay to watch them on TV.

Goals and decent performances give us the excuse, if not to forgive, then at least to forget indiscretions.

None of this is meant to defend Diouf. I find a lot of his behaviour reprehensible and fail to understand why Walter Smith would feel the need to take a risk on him.

But he's not the only bad boy to play the game. At times it seems the football is full of, at best, stupid boys and, at worse, a ragbag collection of bampots, cheats (in many senses of the word), thugs and convicted criminals.

If you look at Diouf and see an isolated example of football's moral breakdown, a lone wolf who fails to understand the boundaries of the norms of acceptable behaviour then you are taking an incredibly myopic view of the game. You are, might I suggest, taking a position of engineered outrage that a look at your own club's squad list might well fail to justify.

That, of course, is the football fan's prerogative. Vilification, condemnation, forgiveness and hero worship can be treated like a Woolworths' pick n mix.

El Hadji Diouf has provided people with the ammunition to cast him as the villain in a simple narrative of good versus evil.

He probably deserves that. But he's been picked from a cast of thousands for a starring role. If we're going to concentrate all our energies on screaming blue murder at Diouf's continued existence as a professional footballer then maybe we're letting a hell of a lot of others get off scot-free.

It's less hard to understand why Diouf seems to be constantly forgiven when we accept that he's not the only one. A bad apple for sure. But not the only one in this great game of ours.

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