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Who were the team of 2014?

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Are the Reds really improving?

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Injuries threaten to derail Arsenal

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Flamini's rich pals, Man City make blue movie

The international break may have come and gone but Off The Ball never rests in its mission to scratch around the underbelly of professional football to find the most bizarre, humorous and inexplicable stories.

This week, Arsenal misfit Mathieu Flamini gatecrashes Serie A's highest paid XI, a botched bicycle-kick leaves Dirk Kuyt out injured, Manchester City launch a blue movie and Scotland fans boo England via Liechtenstein.

The highest paid Serie A XI

Back in 2004, Marseille coach Jose Anigo described the way Mathieu Flamini went about his carefully calculated contract negotiations as "beautiful treason" after the midfielder reneged on a verbal deal, after using it as a bargaining chip, in order to join Arsenal. And it seems the Gunners misfit hasn't lost his touch as the AC Milan midfielder has just been named in Serie A's highest paid XI.

After four years at Arsenal, Marseille-escapee Flamini once again ran down his contract and sneaked out of the Emirates for free in order to bag himself a bumper pay packet at the San Siro. According to Gazzetta dello Sport the Frenchman earns €4.5 million a year and takes his place in the team ahead of Inter Milan's Champions League winner Wesley Sneijder and Sampdoria's Antonio Cassano.

The highest paid XI in their respective positions are: Gianluigi Buffon, Christian Chivu, Alessandro Nesta, Walter Samuel, Maicon, Mathieu Flamini, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Samuel Eto'o, Ronaldinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Serie A wages now total a mere €802 million for one season only.

Are boo England in disguise?

The SFA had to issue a grovelling apology to Liechtenstein this week, not because Scotland scored their winning goal in the 97th minute when only 95 should have been played, but because some of their more partisan fans just couldn't resist booing their opponent's national anthem due to its similarity to God Save The Queen.

Liechtenstein's Oben am Jungen Rhein is sung to the same tune used by Scotland's arch-rivals England and as it blared out at Hampden Park on Tuesday evening it prompted a Pavlovian response from the Sassenach-haters north of the border.

George Peat, the acting chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, said: "I was embarrassed and extremely disappointed by the disgraceful behaviour of some of our supporters during the Liechtenstein national anthem at Hampden Park last night. Those who chose to boo our opponents' anthem only served to tarnish [Scotland's] reputation."

No apology to the auld enemy England though, who the fans were booing by proxy.

Man City's blue movie

Want to spend £200 million, miss out on the Premier League top four and sack your manager? Well Manchester City have just released a documentary style film to show you exactly how.

City's unholy alliance with Big Brother-creators Endemol has spawned 'Blue Moon Rising'. Originally planned as a TV movie, director Stewart Suggs, who also wrote and directed the more than watchable Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang), has created a flick which is now set to be released in UK cinemas.

The film documents the highs and lows of the 2009-10 campaign, City's first full season under billionaire owner Sheikh Mansour, and confirms City's megalomania is not confined to the pitch...er...I mean it will be "a lasting testimony to one of the most exciting years in Manchester City's history".

City have roped in celebrity fan Noel Gallagher, of Oasis, and a bunch of crackpot fans to augment Suggs' high-level access to players and staff, although the trophy cabinet doesn't get a look in. See the trailer here.

Botched bicycle-kick leaves Kuyt injured

Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt submitted an early entry for Soccernet's newly-invented Most Comical Injury of the Season Award after shearing the ligaments in his left shoulder whilst attempting a bicycle-kick during a Netherlands training session.

It seems Kuyt momentarily forgot that his career has been built on workman-like performances and went for a shot at glory. Unfortunately, the 30-year-old has now sidelined himself for Liverpool's next three or four fixtures, which includes a trip to Manchester United on September 19.

Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk explained: "Dirk does that a lot. There was nobody close to him, but this time it went wrong. He has strained and possibly torn ligaments in his shoulder. He'll probably have a few weeks off."

Kuyt can console himself with the fact that at least he injured himself playing football, unlike former Aston Villa striker Darius Vassell who picked up a nasty infection in his toe after he used a power drill to cut through his toenail to drain a blister, or then-Leeds United defender Rio Ferdinand who damaged his knee watching TV for too long.

Italy pitch only good for sheep, say Faroes

It's not unusual for one of the doyens of international football to baulk at the facilities in some far flung forgotten corner of Europe, but the tables were turned this week when the Faroe Islands complained that the training pitch allocated to them by former world champions Italy was only good for hungry sheep.

The unheralded Faroes trained at Ponte a Niccheri ahead of their Euro 2012 qualifier in Florence and manager Brian Kerr voiced his anger after Christian Mouritsen injured his ankle on the dodgy pitch.

"The grass on our training pitch is so high that all the sheep in the Faroes would take a month to eat it," former Ireland coach Kerr said.

Italy, who always train at their nearby Coverciano base which has some of the best facilities in world football, eventually ran out 5-0 winners.

Video of the week

Remember the hilarous footage of Bundesliga reporter Jessica Kastrop being smacked in the back of the head by a football? Well the unfortunate incident is certainly fresh in the mind of former German international, turned pitch-side presenter, Mehmet Scholl who now sees balls everywhere. Click here to see Scholl's fear of ghost footballs.

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