Steven Gerrard has allegedly been labelled a "racist" by former Liverpool teammate El Hadji Diouf, according to unsubstantiated reports, in an extraordinary response to a stinging attack on the Senegal international in the former England captain's autobiography. Diouf and Gerrard played together at Anfield between 2002 and 2005, with Diouf garnering a reputation as an explosive and often controversial figure during his first spell in English football.
Diouf scored six goals at Anfield but his spell there was more memorable for an incident in which he was banned for two matches and fined two weeks' wages for spitting at a Celtic supporter during a Uefa Cup tie in March 2003. In his autobiography, My Story, Gerrard labelled the two-time African footballer of the year, who would later go on to play for Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland and Leeds United, as the player he liked the least during his 17 seasons on Merseyside.
"I don't really want to waste time thinking about El Hadji Diouf but it's worth highlighting his wasted seasons at Liverpool as an example of how it can all go wrong," Gerrard wrote in his new book, according to The Daily Mail. "We had finished as runners-up to Manchester United the season before and a combination of Diouf, Salif Diao and Bruno Cheyrou was supposed to drive us to the title. It was probably the biggest waste of £18m in Liverpool's history.
"We finished the season in fifth place and Diouf had sealed his place at the top of the list of Liverpool signings I liked least. It seemed to me that Diouf had no real interest in football and that he cared nothing about Liverpool. For example, the way he spat a huge globule of gunky phlegm at a Celtic fan in a Uefa Cup match at Parkhead in March 2003 summed up his contemptuous and spiteful demeanour.
"A few people have since asked me if I saw any comparison between Diouf and Mario Balotelli – and I've always said no. I've got respect for Balotelli; I've got none for Diouf."
The criticism has allegedly sparked a controversial war of words between Diouf – now plying his trade for Sabah in the Malaysian Premier League – and Gerrard, who joined Major League Soccer side Los Angeles Galaxy after not being awarded a new contract by Liverpool. Diouf's unsubstantiated comments accuse the midfielder of having "never liked black people" and he reportedly added that Gerrard's criticism is linked to his jealousy of the player who illuminated the 2002 World Cup.
"We all saw how he made life difficult for Mario Balotelli in Liverpool," Diouf is alleged to have told Senegalese radio station Radio Future Media, according to Le10 Sport. "I warned him. Liverpool are not a team that welcomes black unless they are British. Otherwise, you have no chance. This is common knowledge."
"Gerrard has never liked black people," alleges the 34-year-old without supporting evidence. "When I was in Liverpool, I showed him that I was black, I'm not English, but I will not let him walk all over me. All the time I spent there, he never dared to look me in the eye.
"Gerrard is just jealous. What I have done in football, he did not. When I came to Liverpool, I came up with the status of boss and he lives there. I am respected in world football, the greatest football experts have appointed me among the seven best players in the World Cup, the top 100 players of the century. Several big players do not belong. Everywhere I go out of my country, they worship me. [Gerrard], wherever he goes outside his city of Liverpool, will be insulted."
IBTimes UK has asked Diouf's representatives for a comment and is awaiting a reply. Lawyers representing Gerrard are keen to stress that the allegations against their client are completely false and that the player is currently seeking legal advice.