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John Laverty

Gerrard could not tolerate Diouf... so why does he defend bad boy Morelos?

John Laverty


Spot the difference: Gerrard clashed with Diouf as a player but is happy to defend Morelos

Spot the difference: Gerrard clashed with Diouf as a player but is happy to defend Morelos

Spot the difference: Gerrard clashed with Diouf as a player but is happy to defend Morelos

Ask any Liverpool fan about their favourite player of all time and it's likely the misty-eyed majority will mention either King Kenny or Stevie G, with the latter winning virtue of him being the local Scouse lad done good.

Maybe some older ones will give a shout-out to Cally or Keegan, but it would certainly be a debate with merit.

That wouldn't be the case if the question shifted to the fans' least favourite.

No need for drum roll or dramatic pause; the winner, by a country mile, is El Hadji Diouf.

I mean, where do you start with this clown?

Hindsight is wonderful though, so you couldn't blame the club, then managed by Gerard Houllier, for shelling out £10m in June 2002 for a promising 21-year-old who went on to have an excellent World Cup for Senegal and was subsequently voted African Player of the Year.

And no-one was complaining when the livewire forward bagged two goals against Southampton on his Anfield debut.

It was all downhill after that, however.

Diouf would score just once more in the Premier League for Liverpool but it was his general attitude that led to him being detested by staff and fans alike.

He made little or no effort to learn English or bond with the other senior pros, was seemingly indifferent to damaging defeats, ruined popular young striker Neil Mellor's dream debut by snatching the ball off him when a penalty was awarded against Ipswich in a League Cup tie (to be fair, he did score it) and drove around the working class city in vulgar, gold-plated cars worth £500k.

But he's 'best' remembered for spitting on a Celtic fan during a Uefa Cup game at Parkhead in March 2003. (Remarkably, Rangers would later take him on loan from Blackburn; what could possibly go wrong?)

This came as no surprise to those who had witnessed similar antics in French football.

Supporters, rival players, even ball-boys; seemingly no one was safe from a projectile of Diouf phlegm.

You could argue that he cost two Liverpool managers their jobs; Houllier for keeping faith in this expensive, indisciplined non-scoring oaf for far too long, and Roy Hodgson after Diouf helped Blackburn to a 3-1 win which ended the veteran boss's short reign. (As was his wont, a snarling Diouf taunted his gutted opponents relentlessly that day).

Steven Gerrard didn't miss and hit the wall - mercifully with invective, not saliva - when he wrote in his autobiography that Diouf was one of the biggest wastes of money in Liverpool's history.

That was a few years ago; I suspect he might be a little kinder to Houllier today.

After all, as Rangers manager, Gerrard now has his own 'bad boy' to defend.

Step forward Alfredo Morelos, whose infuriating petulance, brattish behaviour, persistent diving, snide, dark-arts attacks on disrespected opponents and reckless, Diouf-like baiting of rival supporters, have made him arguably the most hated footballer in Scottish football outside Ibrox since Barry Ferguson.

But perhaps that's where comparisons with the detested Senegalese should end; despite his obvious disciplinary issues, Morelos remains hugely popular with Gers fans who fully support Gerrard's recent claim that 'mysterious forces' (ie Celtic) are trying to drive the pantomime villain du jour out of Scottish football.

"People do want to kill him," said Gerrard, while maintaining a remarkably straight face considering the obvious hyperbole.

"It's because he's a threat, he scores big goals and he's a big player for Rangers."

True, but Gerrard's wrong about the perceived fatwa.

One of the biggest pains in the Bhoys' ass, historically, was Ally McCoist but he commanded huge respect, even in The Jungle.

I remember strolling down Glasgow's Argyle Street 20-odd years ago and spotting Coisty making his way up the other side. So too did a group of raucous, inebriated Celtic fans.

I feared for the Rangers icon, but it was misplaced and unnecessary. The fans hugged him, took pictures of them posing with a beaming Coisty and insisted their favourite 'Hun' took a slurp from a freshly opened can of McEwan's.

Mind you, Ally didn't make cut-throat gestures after being sent off at Parkhead...

The rub is this: clubs, fans, team-mates - and possibly even opponents - will tolerate a bad boy if he's good in the football sense; don't forget that Gerrard was also a Liverpool team-mate of serial biter/diver/agent provocateur Luis Suarez, whom he described as the best player he'd ever been on a pitch with.

Or a Cantona, another one-time enfant terrible whom United stuck by when he briefly switched to martial arts 25 years ago.

The hope is that, at 23, Morelos will develop into another Suarez, Cantona or Costa - a great player with a tolerable edge and not the perennial clown he's threatening to be.

And, it's said, Premier League clubs are willing to overlook the daft Colombian's shortcomings (and upgrade his Lamborghini's security) in favour of the only currency that matters.

He got 31 goals last season, another 28 so far this time, and is now the highest scoring Scottish-based player in European football.

But he's been sent off seven times (one of the red cards was rescinded), with two of those dismissals coming against Celtic at Parkhead. The first came when Hoops captain Scott Brown became the latest victim of a flailing Morelos elbow; the second, a ridiculous second yellow for diving in the 96th minute of a crucial SPFL derby Rangers were clearly about to win. (His first booking was punishment for barging into Brown; the consequence of either a short memory or a recklessly malevolent one.)

That game in late December may prove to be pivotal, but in which way?

Rangers' 2-1 win over Lenny's men put them in the driving seat, just two points behind with a game in hand.

But Morelos' antics earned him a three-match ban and, by the time he returned, Gerrard's challengers had lost the initiative courtesy of a potentially disastrous defeat at Hearts.

The flawed but outrageously talented Morelos may yet be the man who leads Gers to their Holy Grail; alternatively he could turn out to be the idiot who sold the ranch.

Bryant, Kaepernick, Court... it’s been a poor week for editorial balance

There was a lot of airbrushing going on in sport last week. Firstly, the biographies of the late Kobe Bryant which failed to mention the 2003 rape charge levelled against him by a teenage girl.

The charges were ultimately dropped, but the basketball superstar admitted cheating on wife Vanessa, whom he’d married two years earlier.

Bryant said afterwards: “Although I truly believe this encounter was consensual, I recognise now that she did not, and does not view this incident the same way I did…”

The media’s apparent reluctance to recall the highly damaging case angered the powerful #MeToo movement, who’d been petitioning against commercial projects involving Bryant. Then came the Super Bowl previews which excised Colin Kaepernick, whose brilliance helped the 49ers to their previous shot at glory in 2013 but who later made the career-destroying decision to sit during the US national anthem in protest at number of African Americans who’d been shot dead by police officers. And Margaret Court, whose recognition at the Aussie Open for her 1970 ‘calendar Grand Slam’ prompted widespread and detailed reviews of her well documented homophobia.

Court, now 77, fully deserves the criticism for her unacceptable remarks. She also deserves not to have her 64 majors — yes, you read that right — reduced to a mere footnote.

Just one more thing...

Jose Mourinho was furious at Spurs failing to sign Willian Jose da Silva last week. Seven years ago they were on the verge of landing the similarly named Willian Borges da Silva, who’d agreed terms, undergone a medical — but were gazumped by Chelsea at the last minute. The Chelsea manager back then? Jose Mourinho...

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