Leeds FanZoner David Guile is prepared to offer new signing El Hadji Diouf the benefit of the doubt.
Don't write off the controversial striker too soon
Liverpool's Tommy Smith, the hardest man to grace a 1970s football pitch (with the exception of You-know-who) came out with some prophetic words back in 2003, when a young El Hadji Diouf fatefully spat at a Celtic supporter and began a downward spiral that led his current manger to describe him as 'lower than a sewer rat'.
'The stigma of what you did will follow you around for the rest of your career' he told Diouf. 'You'll never live it down'.
Nine solid years of relentless booing later, against all the odds, El Hadji Diouf is still in England, and still the mere sight of him is enough to turn the mood of a crowd. On Saturday, the boos started before he even set foot on the pitch, overshadowing the fine job that the rest of team were doing in stifling a lively Shrewsbury team.
'Shrews Tamed as Rat Signs' ran one brilliant headline, and the four players who scored can feel justifiably disappointed that their efforts were deemed less worthy of press coverage than Diouf's 15-minute cameo.
I'll say this for Neil Warnock; he's got to have some serious guts to take on this challenge, particularly as some players in his squad have history with his newest signing. Warnock watched from the sidelines in 06/07 when some routine handbags between Diouf and Paddy Kenny took an ugly twist.
Without any apparent warning, Diouf grabbed the goalie by the goolies, causing Kenny to pull a face like Mo Farah crossing a finishing line and threaten (in a voice like a Yorkshire Mickey Mouse) to introduce his fist to Diouf's face.
Some years later, after an unsavoury incident in a Blackburn-QPR cup game in which Diouf allegedly insulted Jamie Mackie as he lay on a stretcher nursing a broken leg, then-QPR goalie Kenny took to Twitter to express his feelings. 'That fellow Diouf will get it one day' he stormed, (he didn't actually say 'fellow', but you get the idea). 'What goes around comes around'.
I can't condone any of Diouf's previous actions and do not seek to make excuses for him, but I will judge him purely on what he does for this club, and would hope that others do the same. Tommy Smith was entirely right; the spitting stigma will follow him wherever he goes, but it will only become relevant to Leeds United if he repeats his mistakes.
Anyone who turns up to support the team and then boos a player in a white shirt might as well save their cash and stay at home, where they can express their displeasure without impacting on the team's performance.
It's worth noting that, while on loan at Rangers, Diouf was involved in an incident with Celtic's Scott Brown that signalled that he may just have become a little more adept at keeping his behaviour in check.
After scoring, Brown sought out Diouf and stood toe-to-toe in front of him, raising his arms in a celebration clearly designed to provoke him. If he had done that to the Diouf of nine years ago he'd have ended up with something unspeakably horrible dripping from his face. Diouf walked away.
Warnock's ability to get the best out of the temperamental Adel Taarabt was widely credited as the reason that QPR swept all before them two seasons ago and ascended to the Premiership. If he can repeat that particular trick with an older, wiser and smarter Diouf, this season could become very interesting indeed.
Let's not create problems for ourselves by writing off players with the season in its infancy. We need every player we have, and we need the atmosphere at Elland Road to be considerably less poisonous than it has recently become. No-one's asking you to love Diouf, to put his name on your shirt or to name your children after him. Treat him as you would any other new signing, and it'll be up to him to do the rest.