Welcome to ‘Random Premier League Chancers’, a weekly look at some of the strangest characters to have ever lined out in the English Premier League.
Typically transfers that didn’t work out and were quickly erased from the memories of most supporters, these men were the guys who’s name you heard a few times in Match Of The Day, then never heard from ever again.
This week we are taking a look at a man who was touted as the next Patrick Viera by Gerard Houllier, who looked to have stolen a march on Europe's top clubs by singing him before Senegal's brilliant 2002 World Cup, but things didn't quite work out that way. It's Salif Diao.
17 year old Salif Diao arrived in France with a dream of playing football at the top level. Having spent his childhood playing the game he loved in the Tambacounda Region of Senegal, his skills had offered him a new life in Europe, as AS Monaco offered him his first professional contract in 1996. During his second season in France he was loaned to Ligue 2 club SAS Epinal, but on his return to Monaco he found himself involved with the first team, and went on to be a part of the side who won Ligue 1 in 99/00.
In 2001 Diao was deemed surplus to requirements at Monaco, and was sold to Sedan Ardennes, also a Ligue 1 club. Here, Salif enjoyed his first taste of European competition as he played in three games in the early rounds of the UEFA Cup. Sedan finished just above the relegation zone, but Salif Diao had caught the eye of a few scouts. It was Gerard Houllier who acted first, and crucially before the 2002 World Cup, to snap up Diao by agreeing a £5m fee.
Liverpool fans were no doubt tuning in to Senegal's 2002 World Cup games to get a look at their new midfield signing (not to mention the heavily linked El Hadji Diouf who would later sign to join Diao at Anfield) and they would have been absolutely thrilled with what they saw. In the first game of the 2002 World Cup, Salif Diao was a rock in midfield against defending World Champions France and many believe he played Patrick Viera off the park. If they tuned in again to watch Senegal play Denmark, then they would have been absolutely convinced that Diao was set for stardom after he started and finished this excellent team goal:
Diao was later sent off in this game, which was in fact a much more accurate foreshadowing of what was to come.
Gerard Houllier struggled to find a regular place for Salif Diao in his team. Sometimes using him at centre-back, on the occasions when he was deployed in central midfield he was less than inspiring, but everybody needs time to get used to the pace of the Premier League, right?
Well, not really. Diao was a fringe player for the remainder of Houllier's time in charge, and in 2004 with the appointment of Rafa Benitez, it became apparent that he was no longer required at Anfield. If there was any doubt, the few chances that Benitez did give to Diao, all of which were in central midfield, went some way to prove the point that he was out of his depth. One performance in particular sticks in the memory, as after a comically bad back-heel resulted in a goal that saw Liverpool go 2-0 down to Fulham, Diao was replaced by a young Spaniard by the name Xabi Alonso, and Liverpool went on to win the game 4-2.
In 2005, Salif Diao was loaned out to Birmingham City, but after just two games his season was ended by injury. He returned to Liverpool and was not issued a squad number for the 05/06 season, so he joined Portsmouth on loan in an attempt to prove his worth. Sadly for Salif, his time with Pompey was also ruined by injury after just 11 appearances. After having a trial with Charlton Athletic ended due to, you guessed it, an injury, Diao was still on the books with Liverpool with no chance of playing time. After re-gaining his fitness in time for a loan move to Stoke, Salif Diao was back playing football in October of 2006 and he finally looked like he belonged. Diao was a consistent performer for Stoke in the Championship, having been seen as a key member of the side which won promotion to the Premier League on the final day of the 07/08 season. He ran down his Liverpool contract and signed a permanent deal with Stoke, having made just 37 appearances for Liverpool in 5 years.
Although his playing time was reduced as Tony Pulis built a squad capable of maintaining their Premier League status. Salif Diao did feature somewhat regularly for Stoke bewteen 2007 and 2010, when he bagged his first goal for the Potters in an away win at Portsmouth, which inspired this fantastic quote from his manager:
I didn't know he'd scored the goal until I got back in the dressing room. I couldn't believe it, I'll have to watch it on television to believe it.
Unfortunately, this was it for Diao, as he made just 16 appearances in his final two seasons in football.
Salif Diao retired in 2012, and has since started his own non-profit organisation called Sport4Charity in which he remains involved in the day-to-day running.
He had a great showing at the 2002 World Cup, he had a torrid time with injures, and he admirably devoted his career after football to charity work, but Salif Diao will always be remembered as a Premier League chancer.