“Oh my God, here it is,” said one of the Reds stars who played that night as her eyes rolled to the sky.
It was less than four months since Diouf had made his debut at Anfield with a brace in a 3-0 victory over Southampton, apparently confirming that the hype surrounding his summer arrival was warranted.
After the striker’s impressive performances for an exciting Senegalese team as they reached the World Cup quarter-finals that summer, the young Liverpool fans had their “Diouf 9” shirts collected in their mass and he there were even some who thought about the copy of his short cut, bleached blond look.
Liverpool had not, as is often claimed now, signed Diouf on the back of its screens in Japan and Korea.
Gerard Houllier watched the 21-year-old as he scored 10 goals for Lens – the manager’s former club – the previous season, and he thought he was ahead of the competition when he signed with Diouf and compatriot Salif Diao, a midfielder from Sedan, before the tournament.
Bruno Cheyrou of Lille, a player assimilated to Zinedine Zidane by Houllier himself, was the other first team arrival that summer.
Maybe the Liverpool manager thought he was getting the drop on his rival and friend Arsene Wenger, who had been so successful with unannounced Ligue 1 purchases, but that was not the case. And so another – maybe the final – the image of the club which did not understand the initiative at the time of the Premier League was painted.
Because Liverpool had been very good in 2001/02, overcoming Houllier’s heart attack in October to support a solid title challenge that included 11 wins in 12 games between January and April. But Wenger’s Arsenal have won all of their last 13 games to beat them in second place.
This summer of 2002 is now referenced several times when Liverpool seeks to build on what appear to be solid foundations; the Champions League victory in 2005 and second place in 2009 and 2014 being the most obvious. There were even fears that the same would be true this season, only for Jurgen Klopp to prove that this vintage is made of tighter products.
But at the time, Diouf became a symbol of failure and frustration at embarking on what had been an exciting triple trophy in 2000/01 and a promising 2001/02.
The performance of Paris Saint-Germain forward Nicolas Anelka, ready to try his luck outside France after the first Arsenal flurry, was troubled by difficulties at Real Madrid. .
Anelka was not prolific in Liverpool, scoring five goals in 22 appearances, but her electric pace matched Michael Owen and Emile Heskey with great effect.
He had become a popular member of the team in no time, and the story goes that he was ready to accept a much lower salary than expected in order to make his move permanent this summer.
Houllier had other ideas, however, and citing the seeming character problems that would continue to spoil the career of Anelka – a Premier League Golden Boot winner seven years later – he removed any chance of a standing offer in order to conclude an agreement for Diouf, whose character was probably sold.
If he was, he would quickly turn out to be the only one.
Diouf did not provide the kind of offensive momentum and flair that Liverpool lacked compared to this Arsenal team which won the title, and when their poor performances were associated with an attitude which did not do well worked, there were many problems.
Young striker Neil Mellor told how Diouf insisted on removing the penalties when he made his debut with the Reds, which he also did unsuccessfully with Danny Murphy in a match at Arsenal, while after this understudy from Southampton, he didn’t score a Premier League goal until a home game against Bolton six months later.
Five days after that, he spat on a Celtic fan tied for the UEFA Cup. Two months later, Anelka’s hitting Manchester City at Anfield severely damaged Liverpool’s sentenced hopes for the Champions League. The City striker left the field for a standing ovation from some home fans.
When Florent Sinama-Pongolle joined the first team in 2003, Diouf came to represent everything that was wrong with Liverpool in the eyes of the frustrated players who had helped build something, including Steven Gerrard.
Rows like the one the Frenchman described emerged in the face of great tension, as Liverpool fought for its place on the world and national stage as they have done for much of the past 30 years, with Gerrard carrying the weight.
It’s true that Diouf started to look like something bogus around the team, but his performance didn’t help.
In 2003/04, Diouf became the first No. 9 in Liverpool history to spend an entire season without scoring. The team was not great at that time, with Gerrard’s exasperation sometimes palpable and especially when Michael Owen left this summer.
Houllier was losing his grip on work and was soon to leave too, and growing frustration was starting to see Gerrard looking away when he wondered if it would ever be possible to succeed with his childhood club. His first flirtation with Chelsea occurred in 2004, and the second a year later.
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Diouf was long gone, but as the Senegalese became the lightning rod of frustrations around the club, his attitude and behavior when he was there came to symbolize a few years lost until the arrival of Rafael Benitez.
One of Liverpool’s biggest regrets remains, with Anelka one of the big maybe-beens.