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Zambia U20s showing fruits of new philosophy


Birthday message costs Messi €2,500

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, Lionel Messi is fined €2,500 for wishing mum happy birthday, German club St Pauli ban strippers from their executive boxes, Real Madrid show their support for Jose Mourinho with fake banners and Mohamed Diame slaughters "crappy" Wigan.

Messi fined €2,500 for wishing mum happy birthday

The trophy-laden career of Barcelona nice-guy Lionel Messi hangs by a thread after the Argentina international was handed a whopping €2,500 fine by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

The World Player of the Year committed the unforgivable crime of emblazoning his t-shirt with the words 'happy birthday mum' and then revealing it to Barcelona fans ESPN Video with sickening nonchalance after scoring a penalty against Racing Santander.

The RFEF was quick to hold the shame-faced law breaker to account after his wanton disregard for article 91.1, which prohibits such loutish behaviour, but stopped short of hitting Messi with the maximum €3,000 punishment.

A string of Messi's multinational backers, who are loath to be associated with a player with such brazen affection for his mother, are no doubt ready to pull the plug on a host of sponsorship deals.

St Pauli strippers get sent off

German side St Pauli have always done things differently but even the The Pirates of the League have to draw the line somewhere and the Bundesliga club have asked the owners of one of their executive boxes to stop strippers performing during matches.

Only DURING the games though. "They can do what they like after games," president Stefan Orth says. "It was all just too much."

The problem arose after executives from Susi's Show Bar, situated on Hamburg's main red-light drag, the Reeperbahn, forked out around £60,000 for a private box at the Millerntor-Stadion and promptly installed a pole and mirror.

A toy train that delivers hotdogs and personal beer pump just isn't enough for some people. Off the Ball can't help but wonder what Andy Gray and Richard Keys would say about the situation.

Real show their support with fake banners

When the Madridistas extolled their support for embattled Real coach Jose Mourinho with a series of banners against Mallorca we all thought it was a moving show of solidarity, but according to El Mundo Deportivo it wasn't, as the flags were all fake.

Following a week of unrest at Real Madrid, with Mourinho falling out with director general Jorge Valdano over the need to sign a new striker, the fat cats at Madrid apparently hatched a genius plot to solve the problem by placing the placards around the ground before the fans were allowed in.

Now it's not for us to suggest that the Barcelona-based newspaper had a not-so-hidden agenda but surely there are less clumsy ways to smooth over the cracks than fake flags proclaiming: "No violence or villain, the Bernabeu to death with Mourinho".

They could, for instance, sign a striker on loan for the rest of the season to placate Mourinho. Which is exactly what happened when Manchester City's Emmanuel Adebayor joined the club later in the week.

Wigan's Diame slaughters "crappy" Wigan

When Mohamed Diame saw his name linked with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United the midfielder appeared to pull out all the stops in his efforts to secure a move away from Wigan by ridiculing the northern town and its female residents.

"The truth about life in Wigan is there is nothing to do. It is a crappy place," Diame was quoted as saying in The Sun. Adding: "It's rare to see truly beautiful girls when you go out during the day."

A horrified Diame later claimed his comments have been misinterpreted and that "dark forces" were at work ... oh no, hang on, that was Richard Keys. But Diame did correctly note that his comments about Wigan girls being "in good-looking mode at night" had been sneakily omitted.

Diame, who joined Wigan from Spanish side Rayo Vallecano for £4 million in 2009, did stand by his comments about the town itself. "I was asked how Wigan was different from Madrid. One's a capital city in a hot climate, the other's a small town where we had temperatures of -10C a few weeks ago. What am I meant to say?"

Anderson's hair raising admission

Manchester United midfielder Anderson claims his hair is his life and that lopping off his distinctive flowing locks would be like ripping out his heart.

"There is no chance I would ever consider having all my hair cut off," the modern-day Samson said. "My hair is my life. It's so important to me. If you cut off my hair, it is like cutting out my heart or cutting off my legs. I would cry for days and days."

The Brazilian midfielder, who has recently signed a new five-year contract with United, also revealed this week that summer-signing Bebe nearly ate him out of house and home when the Portuguese lodged with him.

"He stayed with me for two months," Anderson said. "I can tell you, he eats a lot. He ate all my food! He was a good guest, though. He's a nice guy and funny. When I came to England, Cristiano Ronaldo helped me adjust, so I wanted to do the same with Bebe."

Video of the week

Ronaldinho shows his new Flamengo team-mates that he is still the big fish in the pond and can literally score from anywhere. The party-loving playmaker can even score from behind the goal. Click here to see Ronaldinho score an impossible goal ESPN Video.

Around the web

• Samuel Eto'o had a good time on Chiambretti Night

• The internet virals mocking Andy Gray and Richard Keys over sexism jibes

• Arsenal midfielder Alex Song walked eight miles for a cab


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