Diouf Leeds UnitedToday’s Yorkshire Evening Post leads with Brian McDermott’s plans to clear-out players as he attempts to put the final touches to his Leeds United squad. 

McDermott’s long-awaited fourth signing is a deal ready to be completed, the Leeds United manager told press at his pre-Sheffield Wednesday conference today, but it’s a deal which hinges on players leaving the club.

To facilitate the transfer, McDermott has stepped-up his campaign to reduce the club’s wage bill, opening up the market for bids on El-Hadji Diouf, the YEP claims.

With the possibility of Diouf leaving Elland Road before the transfer window closes, it’s worth reflecting on the unlikeliest of Neil Warnock signings and the impact he’s had on the club since his arrival.

January 2011, back when Warnock was still manager of Queen’s Park Rangers and Diouf was playing for Blackburn Rovers, Warnock blasted the Senegalese international for appearing to mock an injured Jamie Mackie, describing him as “lower than a sewer rat” in his post-match interview after it was revealed Mackie had broken his leg.

That Neil Warnock was even considering the transfer of Diouf only 18 months later was incomprehensible, but speculation proved to be well-founded when on August 9th 2012, the “sewer rat” joined Leeds United on trial.

Dirty Leeds had signed one of the dirtiest players in football. The media reaction was predictable, It seemed the entire footballing world had an opinion on Diouf, very few of which concerned themselves with his ability as a footballer.

“Barndoor opening allows Sewer Rat to infest” was the headline I went with when Billy Paynter’s departure allowed Neil Warnock to hand El Hadji Diouf a one year deal on August the 13th. While I’d always recognised Diouf as a talented footballer, his transfer came just a few months after he’d instigated a brawl in the Elland Road tunnel during a visit from Doncaster Rovers. This, ironically enough, was on the day Neil Warnock first appeared at Elland Road as the new Leeds United manager.

All told, Diouf just seemed more trouble than he was worth…

Scurrying through the barndoor Paynter left untouched is former Rovers man El Hadji Diouf, one of footballs most controversial figures.

Renowned for spitting at supporters, drink driving and the occasional moment of footballing brilliance, the man Neil Warnock once labelled a “sewer rat” was booed by a section of Leeds United fans on his debut […]

It wasn’t just me, the entire Leeds United fanbase was split. When asked if they were happy with Diouf’s signing, only 48% said they were. The other 52% was split between those who were against his transfer and the undecided.

Making his Elland Road debut, the crowd reaction was a mix of fans yelling the now commonplace “Diouf” and those booing his inclusion. Few doubted Diouf’s footballing ability, but many found it difficult to overlook the controversies his career had been littered with.

But the seismic shift in public opinion happened quickly. While Warnock praised Diouf’s attitude around Thorp Arch, highlighting the support he gives to younger players, fans were praising his performances on the pitch.

By the time Brian McDermott arrived, you’d have been hard-pressed to find anyone in Leeds with a bad word to say about El Hadji Diouf. In less than 12 months, Diouf had transformed himself from a highly-controversial figure who many fans hated to see in a Leeds United shirt, to a player receiving universal praise for his intelligent play and game-changing performances.

Now available for selection again following suspension and injury, it’s fitting that Sheffield Wednesday are the first opponents he’ll face. The last time we played Wednesday was Brian McDermott’s first game as Leeds United manager and The Whites trailed 1-0 following a dismal first half. But then came El Hadji Diouf, whose second-half introduction changed the game completely, leading to a 2-1 victory for the new Leeds United boss.

The match report I wrote that day concluded with the following remarks;

…none of the players mentioned had the same impact as El-Hadji Diouf. His substitution brought with it a composure which led to everything else, he made himself available to receive passes, held the ball while people created space for themselves, ran at people to create space when he didn’t have an option – he just tied everything else together. I had my reservations, but if Neil Warnock did one thing right while he was at Elland Road, it was signing Diouf.

It’s easy to justify the sale of a 32-year old whose career is nearing an end and I’ll support whatever decision Brian McDermott makes. But if El Hadji Diouf does depart Elland Road this summer, I hope he’ll be remembered for proving so many of us wrong. His transformation from national villain to Leeds United favourite is one littered by exceptional performances that provided some great moments during an otherwise depressing season.

Mr. Sewer Rat, I salute you.

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